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City Council urges NYC to allow swimming at beaches

"Disallowing swimming at beaches puts New Yorkers at risk."

Collier Sutter

On Friday, New York City joined the rest of the tri-state area in opening its beaches (at 50 percent capacity)—but swimming is still not allowed.

Banning swimming from NYC beaches, including Rockaway Beach, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Orchard Beach, Manhattan Beach and Cedar Grove on Staten Island, means there are no lifeguards are on duty.

After a 24-year-old drowned at Rockaway Beach in Queens on Friday afternoon, the New York City Council announced new recommendations Saturday on how the city could safely open beaches for swimming.

"Access to city beaches isn't just a summer fun issue. It is an equity issue and a public health issue," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement about the proposed recommendations.

Disallowing swimming at beaches puts New Yorkers at risk, added City Council member Peter Koo, who represents parts of Queens. "If the city is going to open our beaches, and parks, we need to do so in a comprehensive manner with the necessary resources they need to operate safely." 

The council is now urging the city to consider limiting beach capacity, installing social distancing markers, and providing personal protective equipment, like masks, for lifeguards and swimmers. Plus, as beaches are mainly accessible by MTA buses and subways which are being used primarily by essential workers right now, the council suggested ramping up transit options to beach communities by creating new bus lanes, more bike racks and “bike-only streets” on routes to the beach, so as to not overcrowd mass transit.

Currently, beachgoers can sit or walk on the sand (with a mask on) or stick their feet in the water (up to their ankles.)

Surfers on the other hand are currently allowed to hit the waves—a policy which has received some backlash for its inconsistent messaging. City Councilman Donovan Richards, of Queens representing Far Rockaway, said that he was left “scratching my head” over the surfing policy. “Are they going to give swim tests to surfers before they go into the water?” asked Richards. “If you’re saying the water is closed to anyone then they have to be closed for everyone.”

City Council member Peter Koo also pointed out this weekend how not every neighborhood has access to open beaches to cool off. "We also need to ensure that those without equitable access to parks and beaches have alternative options so that New Yorkers without access to cooling do not fall victim to heat-related illnesses.”

For city neighborhoods without access to a beach, the council wants to bring alternate ways for residents to cool off during the summer months, including installing misting machines in parks and on open streets.

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