May 28, 2020 / 4:13 PM / a month ago

The new normal: How safe are beaches?

(Reuters) - People are hitting the beach as coronavirus restrictions start to ease and summer begins in the northern hemisphere, but access might be limited and public health officials still urge caution, including continued physical distancing.

While rules vary across the world, here is what you would find at Los Angeles County beaches like Santa Monica and Malibu:

* Check local restrictions before heading to a beach.

* No lounging around on the sand. Use of the beach is limited to activities such as swimming, surfing, and biking.

* Vendors are not allowed, so bring everything you need.

* Both in and out of the water, stay at least six feet (1.8 meters) from others who are not members of your household.

* No gatherings - including athletic competitions or youth camps.

* Wear a face covering while out of the water if there are other people nearby.

THE BEACH IS GENERALLY LOW RISK...

Spending time outdoors is a low-risk activity in the era of the coronavirus. It has many benefits - as long as you keep your distance.

“People have been cooped up for several weeks now,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Going to visit beaches or mountains are relatively lower-risk activities compared to being around people in an enclosed indoor space like a store or a theater.”

Brewer said there is very little risk of the virus being transmitted through ocean water.

“The advantage of being outside is that if someone does have COVID-19 and they are releasing respiratory droplets, the droplets will be rapidly dispersed.”

...BUT DITCH THE BARBECUE

The real change, experts advise, is to plan a beach outing around specific activities for a limited period of time during the day, rather than settling in for hours of food, socializing, or naps by the shore. In some place, picnicking and sunbathing may be prohibited. Orange County, California has banned the building of sandcastles.

Surfers walk along the water's edge amidst the easing of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

“The important thing to remember is that the COVID-19 pandemic has not gone away,” said Brewer.

Even where more leisurely activities are permitted, avoid large gatherings or crowded areas of the beachfront, they say.

“If it is a nuclear family having a picnic that is perfectly fine, but don’t have a birthday bash,” said Dr. Neha Nanda, medical director of infection prevention with Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Reporting by Deena Beasley, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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