Gov. Brian Kemp’s top aide urged Georgians to head to the state’s once-shuttered beaches. A statewide official lashed out at the Republican’s critics for playing “pandemic politics.” And a Savannah legislator questioned whether predictions of the rapid spread of the coronavirus were overblown. (Report byGreg Bluestein, Video by Ryon Horne)

Georgia beaches brace for huge holiday crowds liberated from lockdowns

The state’s beaches have emerged from coronavirus lockdowns just in time for Memorial Day. 

But beachgoers should still expect some patrols to ensure they follow state social distancing mandates that remain in effect. 

Tourism officials on the Georgia coast said to expect huge crowds after hundreds swarmed the beaches last weekend after the first full week of being fully reopened without restrictions. 

Hotels on Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island are fully booked for the holiday weekend, according to The Brunswick News, adding the venues have limited their capacity to 75% due to the ongoing pandemic. 

Jekyll Island and the East Beach and Pier Village areas of St. Simons Island have been bustling the last few days, the newspaper reported. The beach on St. Simons has been packed. 

Officials surveying the area’s tourists found that many recent visitors have been Georgians taking a day trip or a quickie vacation, while long-distance travelers have been mostly out of sight. 

“We expect that trend to continue well into Memorial Day and through the summer,” said Scott McQuade, president and CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau, according to The Brunswick News. “People have been cooped up and there’s a lot of pent-up demand.” 

May 7 was the first day that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp allowed beaches to reopen without restrictions. 

Before that, some of the state’s most popular beaches reopened April 3 due to Kemp’s statewide order superseding that of some city-level shelter-in-place mandates. At the time, several coastal mayors expressed concerns about the safety of reopening beaches too soon. 

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources next issued an order extending restrictions that prohibited beachgoers from bringing chairs, tents, umbrellas and coolers. 

»FROM APRIL: Georgia couple fined $2,800 for hitting the beach during statewide lockdown

Beach patrols to enforce the state law ensnared some who were ticketed and are still on the hook for hefty fines. 

“As restrictions are lifted, people are just feeling the need to get out,” McQuade said, according to The Brunswick News. “They’ve had enough of being indoors and restricted in their travel. That’s one factor. The other thing is that uncertainty. I think people are just making very short-term decisions. ‘Things are open now, they may not be open later, let’s take a vacation.’ ” 

Social distancing on the beaches will still be monitored by the Glynn County Police Department as a cooperative effort with Georgia State Patrol, Department of Natural Resources, county code enforcement and the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office, The Brunswick News reported, citing Glynn County spokesman Matthew Kent. 

In neighboring Florida, many beaches across the state have been open with some restrictions since late April or early May, but there are many that remain closed. 

Beaches in Broward and Miami-Dade counties are not yet reopened, while some beaches to the north in Palm Beach were open.

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