County beach access to remain closed

Yes, you can still go to the beach this Fourth of July weekend, just not through a county-controlled access point, all of which will be closed at least through July 13 by order of Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., responding to the wave of COVID-19 infections spreading through the Valley — the vast majority of it due to large gatherings and people not wearing masks or social distancing.

So unless you can access county beaches by water or air, that leaves the city of South Padre Island, whose council members voted in an emergency meeting Tuesday not to close the Island’s numerous public and private access points, though the council did approve restrictions on beach-chair and umbrella vendors in an attempt to promote social distancing and discourage large gatherings.

Effective as of 5 p.m. yesterday, over the next week vendors are allowed to set up front-row chairs and single-pole umbrellas only, and they must be spaced apart a minimum of 15 feet from tip to tip. All second-row chairs and umbrellas must be stored at the dune line and set up only at the request of customers. Only single-pole umbrellas, and no pop-up tents, will be allowed.

“We need to do our best to prevent any social gathering outside of 10 on the beach,” per Trevino’s order announced June 29, said SPI Mayor Patrick McNulty.

“We are in Cameron County and we will be enforcing county orders,” McNulty said. “It’s a pretty serious time right now.”

The council vote was 5-1, with council member Alita Bagley voting against the measure. Closing all public and private beach accesses on the Island would be impossible, she said, though Bagley argued for reimplementing a policy from April in which visitors were allowed to the beach only for exercise.

“The county has closed their beaches to try to be part of solution,” she said. “I think by us not taking stricter measures it’s negating what they’re trying to do. I understand businesses need the business, but these are just very different times. I can’t support allowing this much to go on at the beach and I think it’s going to be a disaster this weekend.”

At a Tuesday press conference, Trevino said he would prefer people do something besides going to the beach this Fourth of July weekend, ideally something that involves social distancing, avoiding large crowds, obeying the curfew, sheltering in place and wearing masks when in public.

“I would make other plans,” he said. “The beach will be there in a few weeks. We need to do our part.”