Anybody stuck in beach traffic over the weekend shouldn’t have been surprised.
It didn’t take Nostradamus to see that one coming.
The first weekend that Isle of Palms and Folly beaches were fully open since March was a feeding frenzy — thousands of shaggy surf dwellers piled onto the barrier islands, parked in private yards and swarmed the sand. While Folly says most people adhered to the tenets of social distancing, more or less, IOP was packed with a bigger crowd than they see on July Fourth.
Which is saying something. Mainly, it says we are deep into what public officials have deemed 2020’s great reopening experiment. Better get used to to it, because no matter how crazy this gets, there’s probably no turning back.
Isle of Palms City Council made that clear during its emergency meeting Saturday night. Island officials had been wary of reopening for fear of just such pandemonium, but didn’t retreat into lockdown after a day in which their police force was overwhelmed (as predicted). That speaks to the politics here.
Virus or not, politicians realize some folks will resist another retreat. And their rush to resume a normal life will come with some chaos.
Officials have talked about what opening back up would look like since they closed everything. At the time, most folks didn’t realize just how difficult it would be … especially with the virus still lurking.
That is one peril of reopening too soon (other than the obvious). There will be crowds, but they’ll be sporadic and spotty. For all the people ready to get back to business as normal, just as many are playing it cautious and remaining home. Which is not ideal for the economy.
Some businesses will do well in the Thunderdome — the bars and restaurants on Shem Creek this past weekend looked like a scene out of a spring break movie. But many places will find self-imposed social distancing and restrictions on the number of people allowed inside their shops threaten their ability to make ends meet.
As Emily Williams reports, some of the plantations are struggling with how to make small tours financially feasible. Some restaurants will find it hard to be profitable with less than half as many tables, or patrons. And much of the local economy depends on tourism, and there’s no telling how long before most people are traveling again. Some won’t feel safe venturing out until there’s a vaccine.
Of course, this has all become predictably political. People who last year argued bakeries could discriminate because — freedom — now refuse to shop at places that require customers to wear masks because they think it violates their constitutional rights.
There is some hypocrisy there, and totally unsurprising.
The next couple of months will dictate whether businesses that operate on a thin margin can survive in this altered reality. As time drags on, more people will creep back out, but we’re a long way from normal ... or a thriving economy.
Anyone who goes out should be patient, wear a mask, observe grocery store rules about one-way aisles and maybe review a driver’s manual (because, amazingly, some people apparently have lost what meager driving skills they once had). That’s just common courtesy, and Charleston is supposed to be the most mannerly city in the South.
This is what the politicians meant about the great experiment. Now we find out whether the worst has passed, or if open beaches, businesses and restaurants lead to a spike in new COVID-19 cases.
There are some encouraging signs. The state Department and Health and Environmental Control is recording fewer cases per day than it did last month, but more people are being tested. Which suggests the trend is going down.
So anyone who was horrified by the crowds this past weekend, just accept that this was inevitable. After two months of lockdown, people have cabin fever, beach fever and eating-out fever. In a couple of weeks, we’ll find out if those brave, or perhaps foolhardy, pioneers end up with fever fever.