Northam ditches coronavirus restrictions for Virginia Beach after weekend sees crowds defy his orders

Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox.  Sign up here.

Under Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s eased coronavirus restrictions in effect Friday, the state’s oceanfront was relegated to fishing and exercise only, and social distancing was required.

But that didn't keep crowds away from Virginia Beach over the weekend as temperatures reached the high 70s. Sunbathers took to the sand, bikers peddled along the bustling boardwalk and newly reopened gift shops were crowded with customers buying hermit crabs and snow cones, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

On Friday, Northam, a Democrat, gave the green light for houses of worship and some businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. Outdoor dining – with different parties spaced 6 feet apart – resumed with some staff required to wear masks.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

Warm weather draws crowds to the oceanfront, May 16 in Virginia Beach, Va. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Daily Press via AP)

Warm weather draws crowds to the oceanfront, May 16 in Virginia Beach, Va. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Daily Press via AP)

But beaches were supposed to be closed for recreational activity.

One photo captured by the newspaper showed people shoulder-to-shoulder on the Virginia Beach Fishing Pier on Saturday. The beach appeared busy in other photos, with sunbathers lying close to one another and boogie boarders hitting the waves.

Following the weekend crowds, Northam announced during a press conference Monday that Virginia Beach would be allowed to reopen May 22 at the start of Memorial Day weekend, which normally kicks off the coast’s busy summer tourism season.

The governor said that although Virginia Beach will join Phase One of his reopening plan on Friday, other beaches in the state would remain restricted to just exercise and fishing until at least Phase 2, WWBT reported.

Warm weather draws crowds to the oceanfront May 16 in Virginia Beach, Va. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Daily Press via AP)

Warm weather draws crowds to the oceanfront May 16 in Virginia Beach, Va. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Daily Press via AP)

While recreational beach activity was cleared in Virginia Beach starting Friday, Northam warned visitors must adhere to social distancing and obey other measures banning group sports, speakers, alcohol, tents, groupings of umbrellas and fishing on sand beaches in the resort area. Parking will be capped at 50 percent capacity.