Bright, sunny skies and temperatures soaring into the mid-70s — the warmest of the year — had swarms of people descending on the Connecticut coastline this weekend, despite ongoing warnings from health officials to keep a safe distance amid the coronavirus outbreak.
On Saturday, cyclists, joggers and beachgoers — some wearing masks — crowded along roads and sidewalks in Westport near Longshore Club Park.
On Sunday, at least one group drew a line in the sand — literally — to mark their area and prevent others from getting too close at a mostly desolate Cove Island Beach in Stamford.
The scene was more crowded at state parks, prompting the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to close all 11 of them to new visitors by Sunday afternoon when each of their parking lots reached capacity.
The closed parks included Westport’s Sherwood Island State Park and Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, both popular destinations that have been repeatedly closed on nice weekends since the start of the pandemic.
“Our parks are open for solitary recreation, we’re inviting folks to come and enjoy the parks either by yourself or with members of your family,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said in a video shared to the department’s Facebook page.
She said the parks are requiring visitors to stick to groups of five people or less, and noted the department is instituting lower capacities for some locations to prevent crowding.
Two state parks, Kent Falls in Kent and Seaside State Park in Waterford, have been closed for the duration of the pandemic, according to DEEP.
Heavy foot traffic along the shoreline comes as other states have drawn criticism for allowing beaches to remain open during the pandemic. Last month, the hashtag #floridamorons began trending on Twitter after photos showing crowded beaches were posted on social media.
Local health experts have been warning against interacting with others too soon. Sofia Pendley, clinical assistant professor of Sacred Heart University’s Public Health program, said social distancing has been working in Connecticut, pointing to the declining number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19.
“This downward trend is due to the fact that people are limiting their interaction with one another,” she said. “If we prematurely become more relaxed, we will see increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”
Fairfield First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick credited the town’s police for reminding residents about social distancing at places like Jennings Beach that became crowded this weekend.
“I’m happy to say that for the most part our residents were following social distancing, with polite reminders from Fairfield Police Department,” Kupchick wrote in a Facebook post.
A spokesman for Fairfield police said many are complying with social distance requirements, but they continue to see people congregating in parks.
“We have seen a significant increase in call volume since the nice weather, and I’m sure this is only going to continue as the weather gets warmer and people seek to go outside more often,” Police Capt. Robert Kalamaras said.