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[Updated] Summer Beach Plans in the Mid-Atlantic? Here’s What to Know About Covid and Your Vacation…

Some of the most popular beaches in this region are beginning to plan their reopening.

Official Tourism Authority for Dare County’s Outer Banks

If you’re among the many Washingtonians who had been planning to head to Maryland, Delaware, or North Carolina for a beach week this summer, you’re probably wondering whether your plans will be canceled, and whether it’s wise to put down the second half of that rental deposit. 

Rental companies have varied policies right now—if you rented through Airbnb before March 14, you can cancel travel anytime before check-in through June 15 for a full refund per their “extenuating circumstances and the coronavirus” policy. Dewey Vacation Rentals in Delaware has also updated their policy to allow cancellations “due to Covid-19 related health conditions or government mandates” up to seven days before check-in, through June 28. (The company is also extending the deadline for final payment of a reservation to seven days prior to check-in.) Other companies, including Resort Realty in the Outer Banks (full disclosure: where my family’s reservation currently lies), are taking more of a wait-and-see approach, primarily addressing the concerns of guests with stays planned ten days out at a time, and allowing those 30 days out from their vacation to transfer to a new date without penalty. 

Questions to Ask

Because each company’s policy is different, we recommend reaching out to yours directly to ask what their policies are regarding extensions on final deposits, cancellation policies, and refunds. More complicated: You might want to ask what happens if a beach re-opens to visitors (thus rendering your reservation ineligible for a refund) but the occupancy of the house and the number of people in the reservation exceeds the gathering limits of that time. Would that qualify for a penalty-free cancellation? And what if the stay-at-home order is lifted in the destination state and not in your own? (Technically right now, leaving your home for non-essential travel would be prohibited from DC, Maryland, and Virginia.) There are a lot of unknowns making it difficult for local beach-goers to finalize their plans, as summer all around us is being cancelled.

The State of the Beaches

Here’s where some of the region’s most popular destinations stand as of early May when it comes to reopening for the summer. (We’ll update this as new information becomes available.)

Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan reportedly decided after a town council meeting on May 4 that the reopening of Ocean City’s “beach, access points, boardwalk, and inlet parking lot” would begin on Saturday May 9. With Maryland’s stay-at-home order still in effect, the beach opening primarily affected Ocean City residents who could then access the beach for exercise (beach chairs and blankets were still prohibited), but should Worcester County follow Maryland’s Stage One opening on Friday, May 15, it would seem that any Marylanders whose county had lifted their stay-at-home order would be allowed to visit, beach chair and all.

Delaware Beaches, including Dewey, Bethany, and Rehoboth Beaches

Governor John Carney reportedly told a radio station on May 1 that because it’s hard to enforce opening to residents only, Delaware is likely to coordinate opening beaches with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. He also reportedly noted that because he’d want to avoid crowding over Memorial Day weekend, reopening was unlikely before early or mid June. Beaches remain closed for swimming and lounging until further notice, but individual beaches, including Dewey, Bethany, and Rehoboth (who’d been permitted to be open for exercise earlier and chose to close), are reopening as on May 15 for exercise only. 

The Outer Banks

Visitors are permitted to enter the Outer Banks beginning 12:01 on May 16. That announcement followed a decision by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to begin Phase One of the state’s reopening starting on Friday, May 8 at 5 p.m. Phase One means that the stay-at-home order is lifted and retail is allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity. The limit on gatherings will continue to be capped at 10 people, and restaurants remain open for takeout and delivery only.  The week of May 4 began staged entry for non-resident property owners in Dare County, which includes Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, and beaches further south. Before then, only residents were allowed in the Outer Banks, and the bridge was lifted with a security checkpoint in place to bar access to outsiders. Though non-resident property owners are allowed to return, the stay-at-home order will remain in place until May 22, restaurants are takeout-only, and gatherings are still limited to 10 people. 

In Currituck County, which includes Corolla beach, non-resident property owners were allowed to return on April 23. In April, the county announced that visitors would tentatively be allowed to return on May 15 but then retracted the date and announced that Dare and Currituck counties would announce a coordinated reopening to visitors.

The next update regarding visitors to the Outer Banks is expected to come when officials from the two counties meet again following the May 8 expiration of the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order. 

More to Consider

Beyond the rules of heading to the beach for a summer vacation, here are a few considerations to mull over before packing your bags:

Can you go prepared? Toilet-paper scarcity is not just a DMV phenomenon. Before you load up the car, you’ll want to make sure you’ve packed plenty of the things that are hard-to-find here, because they are likely to be equally as hard to find at your destination, and delivery options to a rental home may be limited.

Are you comfortable with the medical resources for this particular situation as it pertains to you at your destination? Accidents and emergencies happen on vacations every year, but this year in particular it’s probably a good idea to do a little research and come up with a plan for if you or a loved one were to get sick out of town. This is the kind of thing tourism-driven cities across the country are considering as they make the decision to reopen (Dare County touches on this in their Covid FAQS section), but it’s a personal decision to be made as well.

What is the stay-at-home status of your destination location? It’s possible that beaches could open before many of the non-essential businesses, so take a moment to look into what will be open at your destination.

Will you have to quarantine upon your return? Maryland’s current guidelines say that, “No Marylander should be traveling outside of the state unless such travel is absolutely necessary. Those who have traveled outside of the state should self-quarantine for 14 days.”

For more on each of these, check out the Coronavirus FAQ sections of Ocean City, Delaware, and Dare County’s websites to start.





Amy Moeller
Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.