Update: Several hours after the publication of this article, Wrightsville Beach announced it would close the beaches; yesterday town officials said there were no plans to shutter. Carolina Beach also announced it would hold an emergency meeting to consider closing its beaches.
NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The coronavirus is currently wreaking havoc on everyday life. From school closures to businesses grinding to a halt it might seem like a good time for a beach getaway. But with health organizations around the world asking people to stay home and not travel, it might not be the best time for that trip to the beach.
This could be a hard pill to swallow for tourists and locals alike. Spring break is underway for many colleges (some of which have extended the break in order to buy time to deal with the outbreak). For many businesses, it’s a time for an influx of customers, the beginning of busy season.
In Dare County (in the Outer Banks) officials closed the beach towns to visitors in an effort to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, but so far, nothing of the sort has happened in New Hanover County.
So far, beaches remain largely unrestricted — and popular
On Wednesday, when temperatures were pleasant and the sun was out, Wrightsville Beach had no shortage of people out around town — congregating on the beach and walking (or running) the loop.
Town Manager Tim Owens explained that so far, the town has not taken any actions to limit visitors heading onto the island — but it is something that could be done. In fact, when hurricanes make landfall in the region the beach towns often limit access to the islands to residents only.
“The Town has not taken any action to restrict the movement of people at this time. My understanding is that Dare County declared a State of Emergency and restricted movement of non-residents into the County similar to what would happen during a hurricane situation,” Owens said.
Wrightsville Beach is not the only beach destination in New Hanover County, however, it was the only town to actually respond to Port City Daily questions about the possibility of a beach closure.
New Hanover County did respond to questions about closing access to the beaches to prevent more people from flocking to the area, but spokeswoman Jessica Loeper said it was up to the individual towns at this time.
“At this time, the individual beach towns would have the authority to declare a State of Emergency and make those determinations in terms of limiting access and implementing their reentry plans,” she said.
In Dare County, an influx of tourists and rentals may have had a role in triggering the closure. But Loeper said she has not been made aware of any influx in new rentals in New Hanover County.
“In terms of rentals, we haven’t been made aware of an influx in new rentals to suggest a lot of out-of-towners are renting or staying here right now …” she said.
Of course, there would be some significant effects on local businesses by closing the region to tourists, especially during the spring break season.
However, it could also be argued that if the illness is spread in the area and takes its toll on residents and visitors that could potentially have a more severe impact than limiting tourists for a month.
Bald Head Island takes preemptive measures
In the Village of Bald Head Island, a state of emergency was declared on Thursday, and a voluntary evacuation was ordered.
While the evacuation order is not as draconian as it might sound, the order does prevent any new renters from making their way to the village.
“The health and well-being of our property owners, rental guests, visitors, and employees are our top priority. On Thursday, March 19, 2020, at approximately 4:30 p.m., the Village of Bald Head Island declared a State of Emergency that includes a Voluntary Evacuation for the Village of Bald Head Island and mandates the discontinuation of all vacation rentals and day visits until at least April 30, 2020,” according to a statement from Bald Head Island.
In an effort to better gauge the public’s reaction to the coronavirus, Port City Daily hosted a poll on Twitter asking the simple question, should beaches be closed to out-of-town visitors? At the time of publication 77.8% of the 54 people who answered think the beaches should be closed.