A drone hovered over Atlantic City’s Kentucky Avenue beach Wednesday afternoon, feeding images of sunbathers back to the pilot and playing a recorded message urging social distancing.

“It’s a great day here in the City of Atlantic City,” blared a man’s voice from a small speaker as the drone’s four propellers buzzed above people’s heads. “Please practice social distancing at all times when out in public by keeping a 6-foot distance and wearing a mask or facial covering.”

It’s just one piece of technology resort officials are using to combat the spread of COVID-19 as the weather gets warmer and the beaches begin to fill.

“Atlantic City has stepped up and tried to provide the best practices, if you will, on how we can best protect the visitors here in Atlantic City and the employees,” said Scott Evans, the city’s emergency management director and fire chief. “So we came up with several methods to communicate that message.”

Swimmers and sunbathers are going to notice some obvious changes to South Jersey beaches as the new coronavirus pandemic continues throughout the state.

Officials are using technology and signs to make sure residents and visitors know how to keep their distance from others, limiting their chances of contracting the disease. Some officials are adding poles near the dunes so beachgoers have a visual for 6 feet of distance, while others are looking to increase the size of their beaches.

Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this month signed Executive Order 143, which allowed beaches, boardwalks and other outdoor areas to reopen May 22. However, included in the order is strict guidance about capacity restrictions and social distancing, which is left up to individual municipalities to enforce.

In Ocean City, the Army Corps of Engineers will begin staging early next week for a beach replenishment project that will add more than 1 million cubic yards of sand to the city’s busiest beaches, which should add a lot more space to make social distancing practical, city spokesman Doug Bergen said.

Officials plan to spread awareness of social distancing requirements through signs at beach entrances, public address announcements, mailers sent to taxpayers and flyers distributed to short-term renters at check-in, he said.

“But with 8 miles of beach, it will be difficult to compel full compliance when the weather gets hot,” Bergen said. “Ultimately, it will come down to personal responsibility. For the health and safety of everybody, individuals will have to respect the rules.”

But a 6-foot distance between bathers might not be far enough.

Being at the beach carries similar risks to being almost anywhere in public and around groups of people during a pandemic, experts say, with the wind capable of carrying the virus but also diluting it.

“When you go the beach, there’s an added condition, that being winds,” said Kay Bidle, a professor of microbial oceanography at Rutgers-New Brunswick. ”They’re not always heavy, but if it’s a moderate wind, it can transport airborne viral particles further.”

Bidle said wind should be an important factor and consideration for social distancing on beaches, along with interacting within close proximity to others.

“Winds can do a few important things to airborne viruses. They can dilute the concentrations of viruses a little bit, but they can also transport them further,” he said. “You might want to be a little further apart, because if there’s a moderate wind, it can move airborne viruses a greater distance than the recommended 6 feet.”

When it comes to coronaviruses in the oceans, there is a lot researchers don’t know, including if they are there and how well they “survive” or remain infectious, Bidle said. Salt water, light and elevated temperatures tend to degrade viruses, but researchers have not specifically studied the effects of salt water or ocean conditions on COVID-19.

“First and foremost, we have to be disciplined with social distancing, especially those we haven’t been sheltering in place with,” Bidle said. “The likelihood of catching it when you’re swimming in the ocean and waves is significantly lower than if you’re on the beach or in the surf closely interacting with people.”

Atlantic City’s drone is being used to study the capacity of resort beaches, as well as get information to residents and visitors about keeping their distance from each other, and it can be used to tell crowds to disperse, Evans said.

Officials also are using the Boardwalk’s video screens to display messages about social distancing and the city’s surveillance system to keep tabs on crowds.

“We looked at some of the requirements that the governor put forth in 143, and, again, it’s just making sure that you keep the public safe, looking at the capacity of your beaches,” he said. “How are you going to monitor and analyze that? We’re fortunate here in Atlantic City, we have the surveillance system. The Boardwalk is 90% covered by cameras, which we’re able to see from our surveillance room, which will give us a good idea which beaches are getting crowded and when. So we’ll have real-time information.”

Officials also have posted signs with beach rules and demonstrating social distancing, and installed demarcation poles on the most narrow and dense beaches “to give them a good idea of what social distancing on the beach may look like,” Evans said.

On the Boardwalk, 30 social distancing banners have been placed from Jackson to Rhode Island avenues, he said. Entrances to the beach will soon be marked as one-way entrances or exits to moderate the flow of beachgoers.

“Throughout this event, we’ve been coordinating and exchanging information not only with our county but with state and federal partners to ensure that we have the proper protection and policies in place to keep the employees safe and the visitors safe as we’re under this lockdown and how we navigate through the many weeks and months to come,” Evans said.

Contact: 609-272-7241

mbilinski@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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