Before Fourth of July weekend, beach sticker sales were down in Falmouth.
“We have sold about 9,600 resident and taxpayer stickers as of the end of day today,” acting Beach Superintendent Margaret Clayton said at the July 2 Falmouth Select Board meeting. “That is lower than usual, but I think a promising number in terms of the interest people have in accessing our beaches for mental health, physical health and an idea of summer.”
Typically, the town would have sold between 11,000 and 12,000 beach stickers at this time.
“Our sticker sales generally drop off after the Fourth of July, but because we are not issuing the weekly nonresident stickers as well, there is an adjustment there,” Ms. Clayton said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of policies are in place at Falmouth beaches to reduce the risk of spread. Groups are required to be 12 feet apart, allowing a walker to walk between them with six feet of space on both sides. Parking lots are at 50 percent capacity, but beach staff is not restricting drop-offs or bike or pedestrian access at this time.
“We do get complaints, primarily [at] Old Silver,” Health Agent Scott McGann said. “Generally by Monday morning, we do have several complaints. I’m not going to tell you we don’t get complaints. Is it an issue? Well, it is hard to keep some of the smaller beaches with large amounts of parking socially distant. I think it depends on the beach whether additional parking can be handled.”
In addition to Old Silver Beach, Mr. McGann said he has received complaints about overcrowding at Chapoquoit Beach. If the select board wishes to expand beach parking, he said it should do so on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Jones said, while the town has received complaints about the beaches, it has also received complaints about the Shining Sea Bikeway, with users of the path complaining about some bikers and pedestrians not wearing masks. He said the likelihood of transmitting the disease while walking by someone is minimal, a statement Mr. McGann confirmed.
“My concern is the complaints seem almost to be more of a problem than the problem itself,” Mr. Jones said, describing people as being preoccupied with what others are doing.
“Inside, absolutely, you must wear a mask and everyone needs to wear a mask, but, outside, you’re actually healthier to not care so much about what other people are doing,” he continued. “I think the emotional distress that people are going through and causing themselves by being so upset about what other people are doing is actually doing way more damage than the potential damage they must wear when you’re walking past someone six feet away outside.”
Chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said she understood the concern people have when they see others not wearing a mask on the beach or on the bikeway but said it was not feasible for the town to police mask usage on the bike path.
“We are trying to strike a balance. We are a tourist community. We invite people in and need tourists here to support our economy,” she said.
Board member Samuel H. Patterson said if you see someone without a mask on the bikeway, it is better not to confront them.
“If you have a heated challenge with someone on the bike path, you greatly increase your chances of actually getting some kind of infection as a result of the transfer of aerosol particles. People need to realize being hostile is actually increasing your risk. Staying away, that is a good thing, as is trying to distance,” he said.
He said the board should consider expanded parking at Falmouth Heights Beach, Surf Drive Beach and on Mill Road.
“I’m sure we have residents who would love to be able to use those beaches and get their mental health improved in places where they won’t be in much danger,” he said.
Board member Douglas C. Brown agreed.
“If these beaches are not overpopulated and there are ways to add spaces, it would be nice if we could,” he said.
Assistant Town Manager Peter Johnson-Staub said, while the board can consider expanded parking, it needs to consider current realities at the beaches.
“There is widespread noncompliance with social distancing requirements at the beaches as of now. It is certainly worse at Old Silver, but I think it is pretty significant at many of the beaches. At Falmouth Heights, there is fairly frequent noncompliance with social distancing,” he said. “I know it is a tricky balance, as outdoors is safer than indoors, but I wanted to make sure that is in your minds as you consider adjusting the parking.”
Ms. Clayton said expanded parking would not ease concerns about overcrowding at the beaches.
“There is frequent noncompliance, and I’m concerned, if we open it up, we will have more frequent noncompliance,” she said.
However, she noted this information is based on limited anecdotal evidence, as Falmouth beaches have only been fully staffed since June 27, and the July 2 select board meeting happened before the busy Fourth of July weekend. Given this, the board agreed to wait until its July 13 meeting before increasing the beach parking lot capacity.
“I’d be happy to gather information and come back on the 13th,” Ms. Clayton said. “We’ll see what the regular usage looks like after the Fourth.”