Bathing Beach update: How summer season will unfold remains a question due to COVID-19

Hingham Bathing Beach, Memorial Day Weekend 2020

May 29, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer

The Hingham bathing beach remains open, but the start-up of the soon-to-be completed bathhouse/community room/snack shop is on hold due to COVID-19.

In a teleconference call yesterday, the bathing beach trustees talked at length about how state COVID-19 guidelines for beaches -- once clearly defined -- will impact the operation of the bathing beach this summer. At this point, there are more questions than answers.

"Residents shouldn't be expecting the bathhouse or [new] restrooms to open anytime soon," Trustee Chair Alan Perrault said. "The timeframe is driven for the most part by the [snack shop] vendor and state and local regulations."

The possibility of keeping the old bathhouse restrooms open was a topic of conversation, but the COVID-19 sanitation and social distancing requirements might make that difficult to do.

The trustees plan to post signs at the bathing beach beyond the one already installed near the entrance off Rte. 3A listing the social distancing and other COVID-19 rules as a reminder to those using the beach.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Ross Photography

Snack shop lease to be signed soon

Once a lease with the town is signed -- which is expected to happen soon -- Greg Acerra of FIreking Baking Company and Tosca fame will outfit and run the snack shop within 75 days,  or sometime around Aug. 15.

"The vendor has had difficulty in obtaining ventilation and other equipment because some of the suppliers are not considered essential businesses. It's been a perfect storm," according to Perrault.

That said, Acerra is eager to be open before that date. "The snack shop is well set up for takeout," Perrault noted.

Under the current state guidelines, all of these plans are in a holding pattern, Perrault said. "We're all dealing with a moving playbook."

He also noted that the Hingham Rec's plans to use the community room for yoga and other activities aren't likely to happen anytime soon due to the size of the room and social distancing requirements.

Hingham Rec Director Mark Thorell reported that the hiring process for seven or eight lifeguards is underway, contingent on more clearly defined state guidance and consultations with the Hingham Health Department, as well as a clear definition of the lifeguards' role, if any, when it comes to enforcing social distancing and face mask requirements when in a public setting, as ordered by Gov. Charlie Baker recently.

"There will be a lot of enforcement issues," Thorell further stated, "and I don't know if we want the high school and college kids serving as lifeguards enforcing the regulations."

Olsson pointed out that the primary responsibility of the lifeguards is to "watch the kids and others who are swimming, and to not be distracted by having to enforce the rules."

That said, if a lifeguard notices someone not wearing a face mask while not social distancing, he or she could possibly play a role in helping to provide guidance for bathing beach users who are not in compliance. If there's a problem doing that, they could then call the police for assistance, Olsson said.

Perrault asked Thorell if any of the potential lifeguards or their families have expressed concerns about their serving in that capacity during a pandemic.

Thorell responded, "Not so far. Once we send out the hiring letters, someone might express that feeling."

Town Real Estate Counsel Susan Murphy suggested that Thorell and the trustees put together a list of specific questions to be addressed by the town's reopening team, which includes Executive Health Officer Susan Sarni, Town Administrator Tom Mayo, Police Chief Glenn Olsson, and others.

Olsson suggested that Thorell and a bathing beach trustee arrange to meet with the reopening committee. "These are the kinds of issues we deal with," he said.

Thorell also plans to meet with Murphy, Olsson and town officials to address the role of lifeguards during this very different beach season.

Current state guidelines governing beaches include a requirement that there must be 12 feet between the blankets set down on the beach, face masks must be worn if social distancing is not possible, and thorough and frequent sanitization of restrooms must take place and an adequate social distance maintained when waiting in line.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Ross Photography

No limit on number of cars so far

"We haven't limited the number of cars coming through the bathing beach entrance so far, and overall those coming to the beach have been okay," Perrault said.

Olsson said officers have been deployed to the beach on occasion -- patrolling the area and educating some beachgoers about why social distancing and face masks are required, but that to date, no police action has been required.

"People are expected to wear face masks if they aren't with their families and when they aren't able to maintain a social distance on the beach," he said.

While the Hingham Rec had plans to offer swimming lessons at the bathing beach this summer before COVID-19 hit, that plan is also in flux. Swimming lessons have not been held there for many years.

"We're awaiting guidance from the state," Thorell said. "If we move forward with the lessons, they might look different [from the way they are usually taught]. There may be sanitization issues. We're just waiting to see how it all plays out."

With regard to the overall site, the parking lot will be sealcoated and striped to accommodate the most parking spaces possible.

The bathing beach might be one of the biggest congregating spots this summer, "especially if the Nantasket Beach and Wollaston Beach parking lots remain closed," Perrault said.

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