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As Memorial Day Tempts People Outdoors, Virus Rebound Feared

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As Memorial Day Tempts People Outdoors, Virus Rebound Feared

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As lockdowns ease across the United States, millions of Americans are set to take tentative steps outdoors to celebrate Memorial Day. But public health officials are still concerned that if people congregate in crowds or engage in other risky behavior, the long weekend could cause the coronavirus to come roaring back.

Medical experts warn that the virus will not take a holiday for the traditional start of summer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that people stay home, avoid crowds and connect with family and friends by phone or video chat.

Dr. Seth Cohen, an infectious disease expert at the University of Washington Medical Center-Northwest in Seattle, advised that people who do celebrate keep their distance from one another, wear masks and avoid sharing food and drinks.

“Punch bowls. Nachos. These things are a no-no,” Dr. Cohen said.

Many long-running Memorial Day commemorations of the nation’s fallen soldiers have been canceled or downsized, including concerts and fireworks shows. Parks, beaches, campgrounds and swimming pools remain closed in much of the country.

But plenty of popular public spaces will be open—with restrictions.

In Virginia Beach, Virginia, the famed 40-block boardwalk and sandy shoreline opened Friday, but people must stay 6 feet from non-family members, with groups limited to 10 or fewer. Group sports such as volleyball will be prohibited, along with tents and alcohol consumption.

Mayor Bobby Dyer said about 150 “beach ambassadors” in red shirts will be deployed to “diplomatically” ask people to follow the rules.

In the absence of clear federal guidance, it has largely been left to state and local officials to figure out how to celebrate the holiday safely. Social-distancing rules and bans on mass gatherings remain in place throughout much of the country.

The quandary is faced by authorities around the globe. On the same weekend as Memorial Day, the Muslim world will mark the fast-breaking festival Eid al-Fitr. On Monday, UK residents get a bank holiday.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, warned that being on holiday can lead some people to drop their guard and “just relax into their pre-COVID behaviors.”

“They forget to wear masks” Dr. Schaffner said. “They’re not so keen on 6-foot distancing.”

On the Jersey Shore, beaches will be open but with social distancing mandatory. There will be no volleyball, fireworks, Ferris wheel rides, roller coasters, go-karts or boardwalk arcade games. Atlantic City’s casinos remain closed.

Some locals plan to sit this summer out, fearful that visitors from harder-hit areas such as New York City might bring the virus with them.

“The unfortunate thing is that all the out-of-town people have been cooped up the same amount of time that the locals have been here,” said Christine Barthelme of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. “My family will do mostly what we do on every holiday weekend here: relax in our backyard, have a barbecue and light the fire pit.”

For a tourism and hospitality industry hit hard by the pandemic, there is modest hope that Memorial Day will mark the start of a return to something resembling recovery.

“This weekend is an early indicator as to how consumers feel about coming back and partaking in normal social behavior,” said Jason Guggenheim of Boston Consulting Group, which has surveyed consumers and sees pent-up demand for travel.

The data and consulting firm Tourism Economics projects that U.S. travelers will spend $4.2 billion this Memorial Day, compared with $12.3 billion spent over the weekend last year.

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