There Might Have Been Other Steps Before Closing the Beaches

A many enjoys an early morning swim at Magens Bay. Such simple pleasures are on hold due to Gov, Albert Bryan Jrs.. order closing the beaches. (Source file photo by Kelsey Nowakowski)
A man enjoys an early morning swim at Magens Bay. Such simple pleasures are on hold due to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s order closing the beaches. (Source file photo by Kelsey Nowakowski)

As we watched the behaviors of ignorant, willful, completely self-absorbed individuals ignoring the repeated pleas of Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. to keep our distance, our greatest fear was that the many who have done as requested and who desperately need the stress relief of sun, salt water and some breathing room would suffer.

We fully support Gov. Bryan’s good sense in pulling out all stops – including closing the beaches for two weeks – to prevent the territory from being overwhelmed by COVID-19. That we have had one death and a goodly amount of testing is a strong testament to his leadership.

Losing the fresh air, water and sunshine however, is likely to take a terrible toll on the already abused children and partners in the Virgin Islands. It could also increase suicides and other acts of violence. The stress from fear alone along with “staying home” is already being released on the vulnerable. It is only likely to get worse with this ban in place.

Coincidentally, an article in the New York Times today, “A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide” provides powerful support for our contention that a beach ban will be a only a lesser of two evils.

For those without access to the Times, here is what the lede says:

“Movement restrictions aimed to stop the spread of the coronavirus may be making violence in homes more frequent, more severe and more dangerous.”

So, which do you choose, death and suffering by suffocation or violence?

We think there might have been some better solutions. This is not by way of admonishment, but by reflection in the hope that when (and if) the beaches reopen on April 20 – or maybe even sooner, we will have learned something. Otherwise, what we face in the next two weeks will likely be tragically in vain.

The first thing that could have happened, once we realized just how many people were not taking the spread of a global pandemic the likes of which have never been seen before – ever – seriously would have been to post police officers in squad cars at the beaches. While we are aware of the shortage of officers – and while we do not pretend to be versed in public safety methodologies – it seemed a logical step.

With no cruise ship passengers to herd and no youngsters making their way to and from school to protect, and with a dramatic reduction in people going to work in their cars to manage, seems like there would have been ample bodies and squad cars to patrol the places people were congregating and otherwise ignoring rules and their civic responsibility. And if, due to fear and illness and malingering, there were not enough officers, given the executive orders, including the state of emergency, retirees might have been deployed to prevent the current state of affairs that will likely lead to more of the family violence already rampant in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

With some foresight, we could have supplemented with the National Guard and Planning and Natural Resources enforcement personnel, as the governor has now decided to do in enforcing the beach closures.

Another of the painful shortcomings of the management of this dangerous state of affairs from an enforcement standpoint has been the lack of clarity, not just in the Virgin Islands, but in many places.  We all started down this road without a playbook. It is being written as we go. But this is not a time to place fear of political fallout ahead of definitive and strong language.

What we hope will come from the fiasco of closing the beaches here is a concise, clear and detailed list of exactly what behaviors are unacceptable, and therefore under a state of emergency punishable by law.

Maybe we don’t even need a list. To keep it really simple, how about this: no more than two people walking or exercising together and at a safe distance, other than families residing in the same household. That one clear easily enforceable rule would eliminate the stupidity we have seen in people who can’t figure it out. Exercise classes, parties including lots of tailgate events with drinking, loud music and scoffing at this killer disease.

Since any pretension of enforcing a total ban of beach usage will require officers to be at the beach, where they should have been anyway for the last two weeks, leave them there. A reality check suggests it will be a long time before we return to business as usual, if we ever do. And the peak of the disease here, if the Health officials are right, won’t be until mid-May

The willfulness that has pervaded our community is not confined to private citizens. There are plenty of public servants on the payroll of the Virgin Islands who see COVID-19 as a pass to do nothing at home, or to metaphorically, in the case of some police officers, hang out at the donut shop. We have seen them.

As for the scofflaws who have put their neighbors in grave danger in a myriad of ways we say expose them, fine them and shun them.

At the Rally to Restore Sanity held in Washington, D.C Oct. 30, 2010 and attended by 215,000 people who exemplified comedian and host Jon Stewart’s definition of civil cooperation, Stewart used the example of thousands of cars squeezing successfully every day into a tiny hole in the side of a hill under the Hudson River, a hole named the Holland Tunnel, which connects New Jersey and New York City. We saw the corresponding metaphor here when every single stop light in the territory was destroyed after the hurricanes of 2017.

Stewart said, “First one car goes and then the next person lets another car go, and then they go and then the next person lets another car go then another goes.” Every once in awhile, he said, an asshole cuts someone off. But instead of shouting and shaking our fists at them, “We shun them.”

It is likely when all this is over someday, we will experience a whole new kind of social distancing. We will have learned who we can count on in an emergency and who we cannot.

We would like to admit our first reaction to the beach closure was to suggest the above measures outlined above be taken instead of closing the beaches. However, upon observing a well put together video on the New York Times late last night that vividly depicted exactly how Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – which COVID-19 causes – actually kills you, we decided we must take a step back in the interest of the many. It is gruesome and terrifying to imagine anyone dying that way, much less our friends and loved ones – or ourselves.

The governor’s swift and decisive actions have so far left us way ahead of other jurisdictions. We hope he will consider the possible solutions outlined above and anything else he and his Public Safety officials might think of we move back to the beaches.

The drastic measure he put in place by closing our precious sanctuaries at this terrible time when we desperately need them, mostly we believe because of the Easter Camping tradition on St. Croix, might be lifted sooner than April 20 and stay lifted by implementing the suggestions above.

Despite supporting the ban for now, we do believe it will without a doubt result in far more calls to the police and put our families and citizens in far greater danger than a solitary walk on the beach.

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  1. “First one car goes and then the next person lets another car go, and then they go and then the next person lets another car go then another goes.”

    You know, of course, that’s not the way it works here. Here, the line of cars drive thru the unlit traffic light as if there is no traffic light there, rather than treating it like a four way stop as the law requires. Totally contrary to the normal for here hyper courteous custom of stopping and letting people in.

    And, it is a sad testimony to say that if people can’t go to the beach to relieve their stress (seriously?), their only option is to stay home and beat their spouse and children. Stress? Here? LOL

  2. I swim on my days off & live here to enjoy the serenity of the beautiful beaches & pristine underwater life of these Caribbean waters. Scuba diving is my passion, as I have been blessed to be able to jump off of the back of a perfectly good boat into these Amazing Caribbean.
    I find this s little too little, a lot too late; like sour grapes. I had actually just finished swimming with a little 3′ black-tipped reef shark for a couple of seconds when I texted about it to my dive master friend, only to find out that the beaches were closed! Converting to night shift, I hadn’t heard the news. There was nothing posted & no different lack of enforcement of physical distancing at the entrance to the beach. I usually am one of the rate solitary swimmers at my fav beach & pick up locals garbage every day as I walk the beaches to manage stress & exercise.
    It’s the Ostrich effect, in my opinion, to suggest that the beaches may be reopened sooner than April 30th! Only with such suggested enforcement efforts could we hope for the beautiful beaches of our islands to be reopened even then.