SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TEXAS (Border Report) — The breezes from the Gulf of Mexico cooled South Texas beach goers down on Monday as they eagerly flocked to South Padre Island after a month-long closure.
The popular island was reopened to swimming, surfing, boating and kayaking after weeks of being shuttered due to COVID-19. And that enticed many people out, even on a Monday.
But some locals, like “Tiki” Tommy Saenz, said he worries the decision to reopen businesses came too soon.
“I think they should have waited another couple of weeks according to the charts to the CDC on the peak,” said Saenz, who does a local daily surf report. “I’m not an expert or anything but from what I’ve read it has indicated we should have waited a little bit but I’m not the one calling the shots.”
Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., has been calling the shots since he ordered a state of emergency over a month ago, shuttering beaches, restaurants and retail stores and ordering residents to shelter in place. But last Friday, Trevino announced that beaches and public water parks and boat ramps would reopen with some restrictions. The facilities will have limited hours, face masks must be worn in public (except when in the water), and beach-goers must practice social distancing. Boats can only have a couple riders, including charter vessels, and fishermen may not gut their catch in public.
A few other states, like Georgia, have started to loosen their restrictions and are allowing public facilities to reopen. And on Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Texas businesses, retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters will be able to reopen on Friday, May 1.
On Monday, hundreds of families strolled on the beaches, played in the tide, and walked dogs on the sand. And most wore face masks and practiced social distancing, as Trevino ordered.
Nayelly Montalvo, 21, from Rio Grande City raced to the beach, which she says she has missed during the closure.
“I come every chance I get. It’s just so beautiful,” she said as she sat with her Chihuahua dog “Bambi” beside her beach chair.
When asked if she thought the beaches reopened too soon, she admitted she has some concerns.
“A part of me says ‘yes’ and a part of me says ‘no.’ Of course we’re social distancing so there’s nobody around me,” Montalvo said. “I’m happy and just being at the beach.”
Ali Chafin, 19, of nearby Brownsville, Texas, was at the beach with her friend Sunshine Alcala and two others. They wore colored masks to match their bikinis. Both believed the beaches were opened “too soon,” they said in unison.
“I’m staying only with them and practicing social distancing. I don’t think you should be with new people because that defeats the whole purpose. We should be allowed to be out here to enjoy it but also practice social distancing,” Chafin said.
Thomas Gomez of McAllen, and his wife call themselves “beach bums” and were sunning themselves on lounge chairs. They said in all the years they’ve been coming they’ve never worn a mask.
“We’re still trying to be safe. Everybody seems to be having a good time and keeping space and I think that’s going to help us a lot, not to overwhelm the beach,” Gomez said.
But Saenz said he feels like visitors are already overwhelming these shores.
Saenz and his retiree friend, Bill Best, 65, live on South Padre Island year-round and he said they worry that so many people coming onto the island could bring COVID-19.
Saenz said that during the closure residents or those with essential business on the island had to show ID proof to an officer to get onto the island.
“Then they released all that this weekend and let anybody come in to play on the beach. Before it was kind of locked down and we felt safer. Now they have opened it up to the public. Now we’ve had thousands of people come in and so I don’t know how that’s going to affect us,” Saenz said.
Particularly troubling to them, they said, is that two nursing homes in the town of Harlingen, about 30 miles away, have had 13 deaths and at least 144 cases of COVID-19. Cameron County has 366 cases, including 12 new cases announced on Sunday.
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