Beaches loosen restrictions in phase two reopening

EMERALD ISLE, NC (WITN) - As the unofficial start of summer begins during one of the busiest beach weekends of the season, town officials have been preparing to keep beachgoers safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Phase two of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s (D-N.C.) reopening plan still restricts indoor gatherings to no more than ten people but increased the cap for outdoor gatherings to no more than 25.

“As long as people take care of themselves and keep a distance from people I can’t see why they can’t,” said fisherman James Engel. “It wouldn’t hurt to open it back up.”

Emerald Isle Town Manager Matt Zapp is expecting beaches to be even more crowded than they have been. Although phase two doesn’t change anything for North Carolina beaches specifically, Zapp expects the loosened restrictions will likely drive more people down to the shore.

“The bars are still closed, movie theaters are still closed, put-put golf courses are still closed,” Zapp said. “That means the one attraction on Emerald Isle will be the sandy beach streets.”

Another attraction: Coastal restaurants. They’re now allowed to open indoor dining areas at 50% capacity.

Rucker Johns Business Manager Julian Johns doesn’t expect to have any issues filling that this weekend.

“As these warmer beach weekends are coming, more and more people are coming to town,” Johns said. “So, we’re seeing some good upticks on the weekends.”

After nearly two months of takeout only service, it’s taken a lot to allow Johns’ guests inside again.

“Trying [to] figure out how to jump through the hoops and meet all the requirements while at the same time still, you know ultimately health and safety is the primary goal,” said Johns.

36 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in Carteret County and three people in the county have died from the virus.