More vacation towns are reopening after lockdown.
By the last week in April, empty hotel rooms in this resort town along a Colorado River reservoir with 45 miles of coastline started filling back up, with crowds growing week by week. People poured in even as most businesses were closed and restaurants offered only carryout.
The influx has divided local residents. Some are worried a Covid-19 outbreak could overwhelm the local hospital that has just 171 beds. Others welcome the tourist dollars. The situation illustrates how Lake Havasu City and other tourism hot spots, such as North Carolina's Outer Banks and parts of Florida, have become magnets for quarantine-weary visitors, who boost the local economy but fuel concerns about a coronavirus surge among locals.
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"Gov. [Doug] Ducey protected outdoor recreation in his executive order," Lake Havasu Mayor Cal Sheehy said. "Lake Havasu itself is a federal waterway, so I don't have the authority to be able to close the lake."
As word got out in April that the lake was open, day trippers and folks from out of state headed to the resort town. Mr. Sheehy said local residents of the city, home to roughly 55,000 and right on the California state line, were divided about the influx.
Dueling online petitions were launched. More than 4,000 people — a mix of locals and would-be tourists from neighboring cities and states — signed each Change.Org petition.
The authors of the petition asking that the lake be closed wrote that they worried unfettered access to the lake and river is "encouraging tourism from other states, which will eventually cause the spread of infection and overwhelm our local medical system and resources."
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The organizer of a petition to keep the lake open argued it "provides individuals and families much needed access to normalcy during these uncertain times."
Organizers of both petitions didn't respond to requests for comment.
As the city of Lake Havasu readies itself for the typically busy summer tourist season, the mayor said he asks that visitors do their best to maintain social distancing and have patience with shops and restaurants that may not be ready to fully open or opt to limit capacity.
"We just ask that everyone has patience and respect for one another," Mr. Sheehy said.
Another vacation spot, North Carolina's Outer Banks, reopened May 16 to visitors for the first time since mid-March. Local news reports showed a line of cars headed into the area just after midnight, when the closure officially ended.
Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said vacation rental owners and management companies reported an immediate uptick in bookings when the opening date was announced. It was a welcome trend, as the region relies on tourism, he said, with about 70% of its revenue brought in during the summer season.
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Mr. Nettles said Memorial Day weekend was busy along the Outer Banks' 100 miles of coast line, but "so far, so good."
"I think all of the people that live here have concerns, but it's where we are as a country, trying to find that balance of living in a Covid world," Mr. Nettles said. "We'll just have to keep doing what we can to remain safe and take it as it comes."
On Lake Havasu, a recent weekend saw hundreds of speed and pontoon boats, jet skis, kayaks and paddle boards along the lake and a channel that runs under Lake Havasu City's iconic London Bridge, moved here from London in 1968. Beaches were busy, with many sunbathers setting up chairs, umbrellas, towels and tents several feet from each other.
Arizona reported 17,763 positive Covid-19 cases and 857 deaths as of Thursday.
For some, a weekend in the Arizona desert town was a much-needed break from far more restrictive stay-at-home orders in neighboring California.
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"I've just been happy to be out and about," said 28-year-old Marco Velez, who drove to Lake Havasu from Long Beach, Calif.
Randy King, a 32-year-old long-haul truck driver, and his family drove from Victorville, Calif., after reading travel blogs about Lake Havasu still being open.
"We went to a restaurant for the first time in [almost] three months, and I didn't have to carry out," Mr. King said with a wide grin after a jet-ski outing on the lake.
He said restaurants the family had visited were spacing out tables and taking other precautions to keep diners safe.
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Employees at Beach Shack Rentals at the London Bridge Park Beach said they have been busy every day since the stand reopened over Mother's Day weekend. Rentals of kayaks, jet skis and pontoon boats were popular with tourists from California and Nevada, the workers said.
Over Memorial Day weekend the city's 1,500 hotel rooms were full, Mayor Sheehy said. Thousands flocked to beaches and joined a boat parade that mixed a tribute to the military and President Trump.
Tammy Shust and her family in suburban Phoenix have decided to head farther afield, to Florida, when they heard the state was opening.
"It's been terribly hard on my kids," Ms. Shust said of her family's quarantine experience. "They're anxious, and they need to get out. We were going to drive to California, but I didn't see California opening any time soon."
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"We go to Florida a lot and we wanted to go back and support local businesses," she added.
Ms. Shust said her family decided on Captiva Island and a small resort that has limited capacity, but it has restaurants open and shops nearby. They will load up on face masks and hand sanitizer for their cross-country flights this week.
"It's going to be a totally different experience," she said.
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