Georgia officials prepare for Memorial Day 'like no other'

TYBEE ISLAND, GA - APRIL 4, 2020: Georgia State Patrol Capt. Thornell King, bottom right, watches visitors to Tybee Island beach after Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order allowing people to exercise outside, with social distancing of at least 6 feet. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Georgia officials are preparing for an increase in Memorial Day travel that will test the state’s coronavirus response strategy as more stir-crazy residents are expected to return to the roadways and visit parks, beaches and other destinations.

Mark Williams, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, said most of the agency’s law enforcement division officers will be assigned to patrol waterways over the weekend.

And Georgia State Patrol Troopers plan to “saturate” beaches to enforce social distancing guidelines and break up large gatherings, said Col. Gary Vowell of the Department of Public Safety.

“It will be like no other (Memorial Day) that we’ve had before,” he said.

Georgians have steadily returned to the beaches since Gov. Brian Kemp Kemp's statewide order in April lifted restrictions that shuttered the seashore.

But local officials are bracing for an influx of new visitors as more businesses reopen, virtual school years wind down and a holiday weekend beckons.

The seaside town of Tybee Island, whose leaders were among the loudest critics of Kemp's approach, drew nearly 25,000 people last weekend. Mayor Shirley Sessions said she's expecting even larger crowds over the holiday break.

To prepare for the expected visitors, the city of 3,000 plans to assign more parking staff to help clear the roadways and more lifeguards to patrol crowded beaches. She also said local police will more aggressively enforce parking restrictions.

“Are we ready? That is the million-dollar question. Can you really ever be ready for the unknown?” she said. “We’re doing everything we can do to be prepared.”

Further down the coastline, tourism officials in the Brunswick area say some hotels are sold out for the weekend – and increased interest in travel later this year.

“We also are seeing bookings continue to increase for our summer season,” said Scott McQuade, chief executive of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Although we may not break records for tourism this summer, we are just happy to have our visitors come back.”

RELATED: Safety tips for shopping, going out during pandemic