Galveston struggling to manage overcrowding at its beaches

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The city of Galveston is looking to state officials in helping to manage massive crowd sizes on its beaches that the city says is putting first responders in danger.

"We have some areas in the West End of the island (where last weekend there) were large congregations in spots," said City Manager Brian Maxwell. "We had to put our first responders in some very precarious situations."

Maxwell estimates some 100,000 people crowded onto Galveston's beaches this past weekend, spurred on by Gov. Greg Abbott's reopening of all Texas beaches and a dose of cabin fever. He says many of the beach goers had no interest in social distancing or other COVID-19 guidelines.

"We were given less than 48 hours to open the beaches," said Maxwell. "We had a plan to gradually open the beaches to coincide with our businesses opening. At the last minute, the Governor's office and the Land Office decided to open, and it kind of caught us a little off guard."

With Galveston amusement parks closed and restaurants only seating at 25% capacity, many people had little else to do but crowd the beaches and board walk.

"The beach is wilderness. It's unstructured. There's no pathway you can guide people around," said infectious disease specialist, Dr. Ed Rensimer. "You can't put up fences, and keep people in their own lanes, and that's where the trouble is."

Dr. Rensimer says he generally supports the Governor's efforts to slowly reopen the state but worries about beaches because the risk can not be contained like stores and restaurants.

"We saw what happened in Mardi Gras, and that skyrocketed numbers in New Orleans and made it a hot spot immediately," said Dr. Rensimer, worrying something similar could happen in Galveston.

The response is a little different in the unincorporated parts of Galveston County where Judge Mark Henry has mostly kept beaches open.

"Lots of vehicles but not lots of congregating," said Judge Henry. "You can have a lot of vehicles on the beach, but you don't have to have a violation of CDC regulations."

Henry says he has increased law enforcement four-fold in the Bolivar Island stretch of beaches and hopes that's enough.

Meanwhile, Maxwell says the city of Galveston asked the state to send down some troopers to help manage the crowd but was told the state didn't' have the manpower.

The city of Galveston has asked Commissioner George P. Bush and Gov. Greg Abbott's office for some leeway. The city would like some ability to limit vehicle traffic on its beaches. City officials are still waiting for a response.

ABC13 reached out to the General Land Office and the Governor's Office but didn't receive a response.
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