(Reuters) - The beaches and boardwalks of the New Jersey shore, made famous by the music of Bruce Springsteen, will reopen for Memorial Day weekend as the state that was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus emerges from lockdown, Governor Phil Murphy said on Thursday.
While beachgoers will need to keep their distance from one another, opening the Jersey shore in time for the traditional May 23-25 start of summer will enable to the state to fire up a key economic engine and showcase one of its crown jewels.
“The Jersey Shore, after all, is where memories are made,” Murphy said at his daily press briefing. “The last thing any of us wanted was for a summertime down the shore to be a memory.”
The state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people and six-foot (1.83 m) social distancing requirement will remain in effect except for families, couples and household members, Murphy said.
“We highly recommend that you wear a face covering, particularly when social distancing is difficult to maintain, such as waiting in line for a slice of boardwalk pizza,” he added.
The move, following, the limited reopening of non-essential retail stores planned for Monday, was made in coordination with more than two dozen shore-community mayors who actually control beach access, Murphy said.
The neighboring states of Connecticut, New York and Delaware, all of which have beach communities, were also consulted, Murphy said.
New Jersey’s oceanfront and boardwalks were the setting for the reality TV show “Jersey Shore” and the 1920s gangster series BoardWalk Empire, received worldwide notice in several songs recorded by Springsteen, a native son who referenced many of its landmarks in his songbook.
The shore towns that dot the state’s 130-mile (209 km) coast between the lighthouses at Sandy Hook and Cape May are “a tremendous driver of local jobs and revenues,” Murphy said.
Small business owners who had been pressing for the reopening, were cheered by the decision, according to Leonard Desiderio, an elected official of Cape May County and mayor the Sea Isle City.
“In Cape May, and particularly in Sea Isle, they are now waving to me with five fingers,” said Desiderio, who was with Murphy at his briefing.
Although several key coronavirus measures show the outbreak abating recently, New Jersey is still second only to New York in infections and total deaths, and leads the country in its rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations and newly reported deaths.
Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by David Gregorio and Dan Grebler