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  • Writer's pictureShanna Kelly

Opinion | Seven Mile Island needs to slow opening

John Pullen | Seven Mile Satellite

Photo | Shanna Kelly

COVID-19 has been changing seemingly every aspect of normal life in the U.S. since mid-March. Suddenly, something as simple as a trip to the grocery store has turned into a stressful event that requires masks, gloves and sanitation wipes. For months, people across the world have felt like prisoners in their own home, waiting for the coronavirus wave to recede, ready to meet friends and family in public again.

And now, summer is upon us. Finally, it’s time to hop in the car and take the Garden State Parkway down to Seven Mile Island. It’s time to be with family, enjoy the warmth of the summer sun and splash in the waves that crash against Seven Mile Island’s sandy beaches.

There’s just one problem: The pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere. Though states all over have begun to open their doors, the ominous threat of COVID-19 is still present, and Seven Mile Island attracts tourists from all over. The responsibility of preventing the spread of COVID-19 on the island doesn’t only lay in the hands of the local government but also the public.

Graphic | Shanna Kelly

One of the main activities that could increase exposure to the virus is an island favorite: food. Countless visitors enjoy the wide variety of food the island has to offer. Whether they’re looking to enjoy a delicious breakfast at Isabel’s, grab some pizza from the Stone Harbor Pizza Pub for lunch or enjoy a nice family dinner at Shorebreak Pizza Grille, dining on the island is a vacation highlight.

Indoor dining was supposed to open on July 2 for 50% capacity, but Gov. Phil Murphy decided against this due to the rise in cases in places that opened indoor dining. However, many of these beloved island restaurants have opened up for outdoor dining, rather than just takeout. With guests sitting outside, it’s easier to remain six feet apart from other parties.

However, according to MIT Medical, six feet doesn’t necessarily ensure protection from the virus. In fact, this same source says that based on recent research, small respiratory droplets can travel much further than the distance considered to be safe.

This is before factoring in wind, which further complicates the situation. A study found in the American Institute of Physics Journal proved that winds from approximately 2.5 to 9 mph can carry respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing up to about 20 feet.

Photo | Shanna Kelly

One must then take into consideration businesses’ space limitations for outdoor and indoor dining on Dune Drive and 96th Street. Businesses here are very close together and don’t have large enough spaces to sit people at safe distances.

Considering this information, outdoor dining doesn’t stop the spread of the virus, and this activity could potentially infect more people in the end. While a bulk of island restaurants opened up for outdoor dining on June 15, Seven Mile Island restaurants shouldn’t have reached this reopening milestone until later this summer or year when the threat subsides further. As of right now, these restaurants should be open just for takeout. This ensures minimal interaction among people but still allows businesses to take advantage of the “summer rush” from visitors.

For many, not being able to dine out may be a challenge. But the fact is, whether one likes it or not, this year will have to look different than the rest. Adopting a new kind of normal for vacation on Seven Mile Island this summer — while it may not be appealing to most — is crucial.

It’s time to step forward and accept one’s social responsibility, which is to stop the spread of COVID-19. And while there’s so much contradicting information, and at times it can be hard to figure out what to do to stop the spread, there are some actions one can take while visiting the island that can help the situation.

While it’s fun to head out and enjoy all the options Avalon and Stone Harbor have to offer, limiting how often one goes out could save lives. As talked about before, respiratory droplets can travel considerably further than the six-foot recommendation for social distancing. Therefore, even by passing somebody on the sidewalk, one is risking exposure to the virus.

Yes, there are certain activities that one must leave the house for. But if it’s something like picking up food, by sending only one person out, one decreases the likelihood of infecting oneself or others.

Relaxing and reading on the porch, or playing a game with family or friends rather than heading out to mini golf or retail shops could potentially save lives. One can still do these things to support the island’s economy, but they should try to avoid peak hours and come back another time if these places are already full.

Coco Blu Boutique. Photo | Shanna Kelly

Businesses like these need to take advantage of the “summer rush” as well, and by making sure one visits at less busy times, they can do it safely. Any activities that avoid public settings where the likeness of exposure is high can stop spreading and should be considered.

Granted, one of the reasons the island is so crowded in the summer months is the beach. But even while visiting the sea there are strategies that allow visitors to limit contact with others.

One should consider laying out on their towel at the beach before or after peak hours. By doing so, one can get their fill of the beach without being surrounded on every side by other beach goers.

Finding a substitute for driving — whether it be walking or biking to the beach — can limit the amount of people one is exposed to. Parking spots aren’t spaced six feet apart, let alone a safe distance to avoid potential contamination, so by finding a substitute for driving, there’s no longer a need to pull into a crowded parking lot and unload the car in the company of countless visitors.

So, while it may be hard to change your usual vacation routine and to visit the beach during off hours, or to spend more time inside the beach house, or even avoid dining in restaurants, doing so can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and help society get back to a new kind of normal much quicker. Grab a book, a tablet, a sketch pad or maybe a camera and find new ways to enjoy Seven Mile Island.

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