Although Falmouth beaches were not as crowded last weekend as they were on the Fourth of July weekend, town officials are still concerned about the lack of social distancing and people not wearing masks.
“Suffice it to say, everyone was pretty shocked by what we saw, particularly at our beaches, with Falmouth Heights Beach as one notable standout among a lot of crowded beaches,” select board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said at the board meeting on Monday, July 13. “A lot of people were concerned, and they have raised those concerns with us.”
Acting Beach Superintendent Margaret G. Clayton said Falmouth Heights Beach was the only beach where the crowd size became unsafe. She said there were issues at other beaches, including people not wearing masks in the parking lot or bathrooms.
“At Old Silver, I might be the only person of 20-plus walking on the bridge between the public side and resident side wearing a mask,” Ms. Clayton said. “In terms of compliance, it is hard to judge, but that is where we want the public to engage.”
She is working with the town department of public works to put additional signage at the beaches to remind people to wear a mask. The signs will also state no alcohol or ball playing is allowed on the beach.
“We’re trying to put those in problem locations, Chapoquoit, Old Silver, Goodwill and The Heights,” she said.
Partying was also a problem on the Fourth of July. Police Chief Edward A. Dunne said the department broke up two large parties that were advertised on social media.
“They were really there to party,” Chief Dunne said. “They weren’t there to go to the beach and go swimming or anything like that. They were there to party. We made them all aware of the bylaw regarding alcohol and had it all poured out. Once it was all poured out, they didn’t want to hang around.”
Ms. English Braga also noted the “really huge party” that took place on Black Beach on the Fourth of July, with more than 400 people crowding the West Falmouth beach. She asked if there continued to be problems with late-night partying at the beaches.
“Not this weekend, we didn’t have the problem like we did on the Fourth,” Chief Dunne said. “There might have been a small party up on New Silver Beach, but it was nowhere near the weekend of the Fourth of July.”
As of the July 11 weekend, he hired a second seasonal officer to patrol the beaches. The officers requested to search coolers, making those who brought alcohol either pour it out or bring it to their cars.
“The two officers who were up there ended up pouring out several cans of beer, but it was nowhere near the Fourth of July, nowhere close,” Chief Dunne said.
However, police were still active at the beaches last weekend.
“This weekend, while we didn’t have the issues of crowding like we did on the Fourth of July, I had to call the [police] all the time on Sunday for illegal queue lines and live parking forming, because every lot in town was full by 10 AM on Sunday,” Ms. Clayton said.
The parking lots are available, but at 50 percent capacity. When the parking attendants leave in the afternoon, Ms. English Braga said, beachgoers attempt to use every inch of parking available.
“I have noticed, as soon as the parking attendants are gone, and I know there is not much we can do about this, it is a free-for-all, with people parking every which way to fit their cars in,” she said.
Board member Douglas H. Jones asked if the town could extend parking attendant hours from 3:30 PM to 5 PM.
“I think that does maintain better control of the lots,” Mr. Jones said.
Ms. Clayton said parking attendant hours were extended on the Fourth of July, so it is doable.
“It is a possibility, but the staff being there will just enforce the sticker-only or the daily fee,” she said. “They won’t necessarily be able to enforce the crowds or the noncompliance.”
Mr. Jones asked about the possibility of opening up additional parking spaces at the Surf Drive Beach and Mill Road parking lots.
“Mill Road, because it is a smaller lot, seems to have a longer line to get in than when it was fully opened,” he said. “I guess I am more concerned about that existing because that beach, when I’ve been there, has not been overcrowded on the sand. I feel Surf Drive is the same way.”
Noting the beach department tracks when parking lots fill up, Ms. Clayton described Mill Road as “a very popular place.”
“Mill Road fills as often as The Heights or Wood Neck or Old Silver or Megansett, but the density of the sand there, it would be hard to know if opening more spaces would change the number of the people, because it is also our closest beach to the bike path for access, so we do see bikers who leave their bikes on the rack there and go across,” she said.
The department will take steps to determine how many parking spaces the beaches can support safely by using a figure of 144 square feet of beach space per party. In addition, beach staff will tape measure social distancing compliance three times per day at all beaches going forward.
“We will have a little bit better data available the next time we have this conversation,” Assistant Town Manager Peter Johnson-Staub said.
Health Agent Scott McGann said his concern is the social distancing of people on the beaches, not of cars in beach parking lots.
“In terms of the parking lot, if you can fit them, you can fit them, I just don’t know if you can fit them in terms of beach space,” Mr. McGann said.
Board of health chairwoman Diana Molloy asked if reduced parking is accomplishing the goal of encouraging social distancing at the beach.
“I don’t think it is doing what we intended or hoped it would do, decreasing the volume,” Ms. Molloy said. “It just feels like it is still crowded.”
She said her bigger concern is people not wearing masks.
“Letting our guard down, I think that is the biggest concern,” she said. “We are seeing it all over the country, and things are cropping back up because you get that false sense of security because you get really good numbers and think there is not a lot of COVID down here.”
Mr. McGann said there were no new cases of COVID-19 in Falmouth this week, the sixth consecutive week with fewer than five cases in town. If cases spike, he said, the town is much better prepared for it now than at the start of the pandemic.