The 2020 Pandemic

The 2020 Pandemic

The impact of COVID on Long Beach Island was quite different than elsewhere.

In the spring of 2020, when the nation declared a state of emergency and most schools and workplaces abruptly shut down, Long Beach Island suddenly became a refuge for many families, especially those from hard-hit New York City. Although Brant Beach recorded several COVID-related deaths, its reliance on single-family housing reduced airborne infection rates compared to crowded apartment living.

Unlike most areas, the LBI schools stayed open, and saw enrollment surge by 20%. Some locals feared that the new outsiders would bring increased risk of infection, and cars with out of state license plates received unwelcome stares. There were suggestions to simply close the bridge to all traffic. A homemade sign saying “Shoobies go home” appeared on the bridge and stirred huge controversy.

For a time, anyone walking on the beach was required to show a proof-of-residency placard, and sitting on the beach was prohibited. Weekly house rentals were suspended for several months, and when they resumed, homes had to be fully sanitized between occupants.

Most restaurants closed or converted to take-out only. Signs were posted at the oceanfront warning that masks were required when walking on the beach ramp. The shelves at the Acme were frequently bare, and the ShopRite in Manahawkin offered seniors-only shopping before 8am. The ongoing shift from disposable to reusable shopping bags took a complete reversal as reusable bags were shunned for fear of contamination. There were concerns that the influx of visitors would overwhelm our small local hospital, which was called Southern Ocean Community Hospital (SOCH) at the time and is now Southern Ocean Medical Center (SOMC).

The 2020 census recorded a slight uptick in population, which otherwise had been falling slightly each decade since 1980.

Other pandemic impacts that were uniquely observable from Brant Beach included the absence of airplanes along the coastal flight paths, and empty lots at boat dealerships as Americans turned to boating as a safe summer activity and gobbled up all available inventory. As the global supply chain faltered, it was possible to see multiple container ships anchored off our shore waiting for weeks to get into the overwhelmed ports of Elizabeth, Newark and New York. Locals laughed that their backordered furniture and housewares were visible just offshore. The Brant Beach Yacht Club received an unprecedented number of applications for membership from transplanted young families.

By the summer of 2021, as evidence mounted that virus transmission was unlikely in the open air, the island began to reopen. Restaurants pivoted to outdoor dining in tents or under umbrellas.

The winter of 2020-2021 saw an unprecedented numbers of residents choosing to remain at their summer homes, and many streets that normally would have been completely desolate instead had rows of occupied houses. Friendships among neighbors grew. Families that had never experienced multigenerational living discovered its joys and challenges.

By 2022, the pandemic waned and most families returned to their previous lives elsewhere, but some stayed and used the shift to remote work as their reason to make Long Beach Island their permanent home.