The reopenings have begun, and people have been flocking en masse to beaches, bars, and any party they could find. And following this mad rush have been many accounts of overcrowding during the pandemic. All it took was one video of Jersey Shore party breaking social distancing rules to go viral.
This came as a shock since we were only just beginning to claw our way out of a long quarantine. People are ready to party, but are businesses ready and willing to manage the crowds?
After a report that 12 Coronavirus cases could be linked back to Jersey Shore, I decided to head there to look into Jersey Shore’s struggle with social distancing and safety protocols during the pandemic.
You’ll be surprised to learn that some places did a far better job than others in “preventing the spread.”
The Current Health and Safety Protocols
During Phase 2 of reopenings in NJ, Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 150 and Executive Order No. 157, with guidance from the NJ health department. These orders allowed businesses to reopen with restrictions (from Executive Order 20-014):
- Social distancing
- Face mask requirements
- Sanitization stations
- Capacity restrictions
- Signage with safety precautions
Since the beach is an integral part of the Jersey Shore experience, we’ll start this investigative report there.
Belmar Beach and Boardwalk
Belmar Beach is one of the most well-known party beaches in NJ. It is home to popular bars/dance clubs like DJai’s, Oasis, and Bar A. The beach is clean, the crowds are lively, the parties can get pretty wild.
It has been over a year since my first unforgettable excursion to Belmar Beach. And with the current pandemic, I didn’t have high hopes. But upon arrival, I found it to be a bustling scene.
The boardwalk had steady foot traffic with crowds of young teens and adults ranging up to their mid-30s in age. The pandemic didn’t seem to change the vibe at all. It was a normal summer day down at the Shore.
Health & Safety Protocols at Belmar Beach
Attendants were stationed at entry points along the boardwalk. You could identify them by the blue and white colored umbrellas attached to beach lounge chairs. Nearby these entry points there were signs with the beach rules posted.
However, the attendants were only checking for the beach passes required to enter the beach, not for rule enforecement.
The bathrooms were unattended but had signs posted stating the mask requirement for guests to enter. There were also markings on the floor indicating the 6-foot separation for those waiting in line.
Despite the posted mask requirement, when I entered the bathroom, I found a maskless man changing his son’s clothes at the changing station. Many others guests entered without masks as well.
The only sign with safety warnings was at the booth where you purchase the beach badge. This sign stated that symptomatic people are not allowed and urged social distancing. The clerks were inside the booth, without glass barriers or masks to protect them. Brave souls.
Overall, there was ample signage with health and safety requirements, but no enforcement. There were also no sanitization stations to be found, which would have been ideal near the bathrooms and entry points.
Overcrowding at Belmar Beach
Along the boardwalk, there were many groups of 3-6 people. There didn’t seem to be any tension about social distancing among pedestrians as they walked along the narrow sidewalks. This drew my attention to the restaurants along the boardwalk.
At local eateries, like Playa Bowl, there were groups of unmasked people seated closely to those on standing line. This particular venue has a small storefront, where they placed a few picnic benches 6-feet apart. However, the seating closest to the entrance was near the lines that form at the door – which defeated the purpose.
At La Dolce Vita, tables were set with about 3 – 4 ft of each other. There were no visible hand sanitization stations to be found. However, they did have 6ft floor markings at the entrance to manage lines, and the staff wore face masks.
As I continued my survey on the beach, I noticed clusters of large groups with 10 or more people. But every group was spaced well over 10 feet from the next. So it seems beachgoers had taken it upon themselves to implement social distancing.
Enforcement of Protocols & Social Distancing at Belmar Beach
Along the beach, police were on patrol. Nearby they stopped a couple of guests who were openly drinking beer. Otherwise, I didn’t see them bother guests about any health and safety requirements.
I may add, that the police were very polite; They greeted us as we passed by, which I’m not accustomed to being from NYC.
Overall, enforcement of masks in the bathrooms would be a plus. And enforcement of social distancing at venues along the boardwalk is needed. However, friends and family will likely always congregate with little regard for social distancing – That is their own risk to take, but also hard to regulate.
I’ve only been to D’Jais once before, and the experience was the closest I have ever come to being at a frat party (sadly, I’ve never been to a real one). The blacked-out windows and non-stop EDM music was a true testament to Jersey Shore’s fist-pumping reputation. You could easily fall into this bottomless party pit and emerge a drunken mess at the end – It was awesome.
Health & Safety Protocols At D’Jais
When I arrived at D’Jais that afternoon, I wasn’t sure what to expect. With the recent viral video, I was anticipating a similar, rowdy experience. But what I found was a calm and well-organized situation.
Outside there were floor markers that indicated 6 feet of distance between guests on the line. In the main outdoor dining area, tables were spaced out 6 feet from one another. The crowded line that you saw in the video seems to be a thing of the (recent) past.
The parking lot was transformed into a second outdoor dining area. Here guests were funneled through a separate line. This section was also relatively calm. There was no party or loud music to be found.
Overcrowding at D’Jais
Things must have changed a lot since that video went viral because the crowds were nowhere near what I expected. For that matter, it was quite dead.
There were only a handful of guests dining in the front and a modest crowd in the parking lot. All were separated 6-feet apart. The wait on line at the main entrance was long since they limited the guests there to around 4 people at a time. This restriction was loosened at the converted parking lot.
It seems that after the recent bad publicity they went full on into enforcing all health and safety guidelines – just as they promised.
Enforcement of Protocols & Social Distancing At D’Jais
It looked like the security guards’ main function was to regulate entry. So the crowds were well managed and the flow of guests into the venue was capped at all entry points.
From the image above you can see that once inside, where guests were freely moved around and small crowds developed around the second bar area in the lot. Masks typically came off once inside.
Overall, it looks like a big improvement in crowd control within just a week of the viral video. The only areas of opportunity here would be monitoring mask use as guests move within the venue, and having hand sanitization stations.
On the other hand, the notable lack of energy at this venue was a downer. A little music would have been nice. When I returned later in the evening there were only about 15 guests there. So, while changes were made for the greater good, they totally killed the vibe.
Before the pandemic, I found a fun party with a lively and mature crowd at Bar Anticipation (also known as Bar A). Back then, they had a DJ playing pop music for the outdoor party and a live pop-rock performance at their indoor bar. It’s easily one of the best party bars in town.
Bar A’s main advantage, and attraction, over local bars attraction is its huge outdoor space. This space 3 tiki-styled bars and tons of seating. So it wasn’t difficult for them to implement social distancing and still maximize attendance.
Bar A had signage prominently posted throughout the venue from the entrance to the bathrooms.
Health & Safety Protocols At Bar Anticipation
Bar A had safety protocols set to max. It is the first establishment, so far, that checked for fevers at the door. Upon entry, security guards checked my ID and my temperature with an infrared thermometer. Then they gave me a wristband that indicated to the staff, and everyone, that I am symptom-free and ready to party. I finally made it.
Although conditions like the direct sunlight and how the device is held can affect its accuracy, this temperature check is a great added precautionary step. I felt a little more secure knowing that I’m less likely to be around someone who is symptomatic, even though the jury is still out on whether asymptomatic people can still spread the Coronavirus.
Overcrowding at Bar A
Bar A continued to do a great job by separating the crowd for social distancing. There were groups of many different sizes, ranging from 3-8 guests, and every table was spaced out by at least 6 feet. They made full use of the massive space and followed a floor plan that optimized seating.
They also kept the crowd entertained with a live singer/guitarist. This was a great idea since it helped to keep people seated and focused on the performer. It worked for everyone except a couple of hecklers who told him that he messed the words up.
Enforcement of Protocols & Social Distancing at Bar A
Bar A did a great job of handling the crowd from start to finish. A host escorted each guest directly from the entrance to a table. Where a server then promptly came to the table to handle orders. No one was allowed to approach or order directly from the bar unless they were seated at one.
Security guards were posted throughout the venue to remind guests to wear their masks as they walked through the aisles. They proactively informed and enforced compliance with safety protocols. Overall, Bar A did a fantastic job and in many ways, they went above and beyond.
Oasis Pool & Day Club
Oasis Pool & Day Club is by far one of the best parties in Belmar and possibly the biggest dance club. It has 5 main sections:
- An outdoor artificial beach with benches and a volleyball net.
- An outdoor pool area surrounded by VIP tables and grand DJ booth.
- An outdoor patio bar with dining tables
- An outdoor tiki bar surrounded by food vendors.
- An indoor nightclub
It is even bigger than Bar A and it caters to a younger crowd.
Health Protocols at Oasis Pool & Day Club
As far as health protocols went, things started great. Like Bar A, masked security guards checked ID and temperatures right at the entrance. They also required guests to take a complimentary and obligatory shot of hand sanitizer from a spray bottle before entering. The waitresses inside were also masked.
In the picture above, you will notice there weren’t any conspicuous signs explaining the safety protocols. There also weren’t any markers on the floors indicating 6 feet for social distancing while at the line or inside.
The tables inside were mostly around 3 feet from each other unless you were in a cabana, which is quite a distance from surrounding tables. However, the crowded walkways full of passersby without masks defeated the effectiveness of any social distancing between tables.
Overcrowding at Oasis
While the security guard at the entrance did a great job at the doors, things quickly fell apart from there. Once I got inside the venue, the very first thing I encountered was a huge and packed crowd at the first bar. It’s kind of funny since I just got sanitized and will immediately be rubbing shoulders with guests.
After making my way through the crowd I found seating at the bar on the patio. There the crowd was a bit lighter in comparison, but people were shoulder to shoulder at the bar.
I found refuge at a table and ordered some food from the very helpful waitress. This helped me to maintain my social distancing. But generally, large groups of people were amassed throughout the venue.
Enforcement of health protocols & social distancing at Oasis
When passing by the crowd near the entrance, I did see security guards sprinkled in the crowd. I did overhear a security guard ask people in the crowd to wear their masks. But most people ignored him, so it seems like he gave up. That was the only time that I saw any enforcement of health protocols happen.
In the artificial beach area, the crowd was a bit more under control. However, it seems that the social distancing there was self-governed since there were no security guards to be found there.
The waitresses that were on site were focused on running around servicing tables. They didn’t have time to enforce any protocols other than providing sealed utensils.
The few security guards that were around eventually moved away from the party inside and focused on the huge line that was amassing in front. At this point, the line itself got out of control with no social distancing between guests where it became another point of failure.
Overall, Oasis had a great party. The music was great, the drinks were strong, and the crowd was lively. But it was. If even one person there had COVID-19, then we all got it. I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t scared of contracting the “Rona” every time someone brushed up against me. I don’t see any social distancing happening here until they have more staff enforcing it beyond the door.
On the other hand, Bar Anticipation got everything right. It set the standard for what businesses should do to be compliant with health guidance and social distancing requirements. Their preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19 were visible and communicated throughout my visit. The entire staff executed their parts perfectly.
Across the board, I did see some potential problem areas that should be worked on:
- Servers removed masks when speaking to guests
- Servers came into direct contact with guests as they shuffle through crowds
- Servers didn’t have time to sanitize in between orders
It’s clear that the servers are the most at-risk employees. They can easily become carriers transmitting infection from table to table and throughout crowded areas.
In general, it will take more time to activate the many precautions and train the staff. Educating guests and obtaining compliance takes both finesse and consistency. While signage is helpful, the staff has to follow through as well. And things like digital menus and contactless checkout need time to implement.
These local businesses have been shut down for months. Now they need to make the most of the remainder of their busy season. And if they don’t ramp up revenue quickly, many won’t be around next year.
As customers, we also have to take some responsibility. We all wear masks to work and shop. We observe our 6 feet of social distance everywhere we go. So why would we behave any less cautiously at a party?
We are still in a pandemic, and no cure has been announced. So it’s surprising to see so many people without masks move so nonchalantly among crowds. It’s like all of the months that we lost to this pandemic were forgotten, and everyone just wants to party, be carefree, and live it up. I admit that I am among them.
We all have roles to play in reopening and recovery. The changes in safety measures aren’t going away anytime soon, and life may never go back to the way it was. So if what I saw at the Jersey Shore is happening across the country, then I see hope and a work in progress. But I also see that a resurgence of the Coronavirus may be unavoidable.
Are you going to Jersey Shore? If so, please share this post if it was helpful! Drop a comment with your thoughts!
See more videos about my experience on Instagram. Feel free to tag and follow me @nezalpha
Thanks for reading!