COVID-19 leaves strange, new world on Seacoast

Most everything is closed, including bars, restaurants, retail shops and as of Friday at midnight, all beaches across the state. People say they understand, but already long for a sense of normalcy.

Driving from my home, where I have been working remotely as much as possible, I saw a strange, new world. Stopping for gas at a station in Stratham, the clerk was behind a plastic screen and a sign asked customers to pay with credit, so the clerk and customer didn’t need to touch each other.

There is little traffic on the road and finding a place to park at the beach, in downtown Dover and in Portsmouth’s Market Square was not a problem.

Few people were out Saturday, but those who were said they needed to get out, to get fresh air and do what not long ago they took for granted. All of them say they understand the need to be responsible, to take precautions and practice “social distancing.”

The beaches were intimidating, with state parks enforcement vehicles barring entrance to state beaches such as the Seacoast Science Center and Wallis Sands in Rye. Others were patrolling the roadside parking areas in Rye telling people they could not park there now.

Rye late this week closed its town beaches, initially resisting the call, but soon enough joining communities up and down the New Hampshire and Maine coast.

Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh on Saturday issued a letter to citizens, urging people to stay at home.

“People were jogging, walking, and riding bicycles on both sides of Ocean Boulevard,” he wrote. “The area was extremely congested with pedestrian, bicycles and vehicles traveling along the northbound and southbound sides of Ocean Boulevard. People ignored the ‘Beach Closed’ signs and walked onto the beaches.”

Walsh added “the most troubling sight was two people riding horses along Ocean Boulevard.” He likened the number of people on Saturday to “a hot summer day in Rye.”

“By staying in your own respective towns and local spots, community-based transmission can and will lessen,” he said.

Walsh concluded by stating, “I am asking every citizen to voluntarily follow what our health professionals, our governor and the Rye Board of Selectmen are asking. Please stay home and do not travel unless necessary.”

Annabelle Bergstrom lives in Wilton but comes to the beach as often as she can. On Saturday, she sat writing in a journal, in front of a N.H. Parks sign announcing the beach was closed.

“It’s Zen for me here,” Bergstrom said. “I have been here since 9 a.m. and I come here every weekend. I love the salt air and I understand social distancing. I am not approaching anyone else. It’s a crazy world we are living in, but everyone needs an outlet.”

Bernie Taylor of Dover grew up in Rye and has an affinity for the beach.

“I need to go to the store for food; I’ll go,” Taylor said. “I saw the order for the beaches yesterday and thought – I haven’t been to the beach in a long time. It’s nice out today, so here I am. The fresh air is good for us, and there’s a lot of room on a beach to stay away from each other.”

Hampton Beach resident Bev Knight McLellan walks her dog Pippa every day.

“I already posted a pic of Pippa at the beach today (on Facebook) with the caption “Not Arrested,” said Knight McLellan. “We walk the boulevard three times daily and will continue to do so – fresh air and exercise builds and supports a healthy, strong immune system plus keeps you ‘safe’ from all the FB rants! Besides, Ms. Pippa is also the ‘Queen of Social Distancing.’ She doesn’t let anyone near us.”

In New Castle, barriers blocked the entrance to the Town Common. At the end of Wild Rose Lane is Fort Stark where officer Derek Poirier sat at the entrance in a cruiser.

“I have seen a lot of pedestrians walking; it’s nice out,” Poirier said. “We have had cars from Maine and Massachusetts come through. We are just educating people with the information we have. Everyone has been good about it

At Henrys’ Market in New Castle, a sign out front advertised “Quarantine Cupcakes” available at the takeout window.

Harvey’s Bakery in Dover was open for baked goods, two customers at a time in the store, or curbside service. The restaurant was closed and dark, but was serving takeout.

Sisters Karen Speltz, Susan O’Donnell and Pam Simpson own and operate Harvey’s. They are doing the best they can under the circumstances.

“At least we do not have a mortgage like some of the other restaurants,” Simpson said. “The bakery is popular and holding its own. The restaurant business is down 90%. We have had to lay off all 15 employees.”

Harvey’s is operating under reduced hours, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Speltz said they are going above and beyond in terms of sanitizing and keeping things cleaned.

“I think people still want to get their maple doughnut,” Speltz said. “I think it’s comfort food they want.”

“We are really busy in the morning, but by afternoon it slows down,” O’Donnell said.

Portsmouth’s Market Street was pretty empty of people, but there were a few out and about. Restaurants and stores were closed but it was a nice place for a walk.

Portsmouth resident Courtney Patrick went out for a run.

“I understand this is necessary, but it s***,” she said. “I know the faster we can stop the spread, the better for us all. But we love being out here.”

Frank Manchester and Doug Johnson of Portsmouth were out walking. Manchester is a dentist and said his practice is emergency needs only at the moment.

“This is hard, but better safe than sorry,” Manchester said.

Johnson said he is not sure people are taking COVID-19 seriously enough.

“Restaurants are hurting and I feel badly about that,” he said. “But who is handling that takeout food. Who is stocking the shelves at grocery stores? We really need to be so careful.”

As of 4:41 p.m. Saturday, there were 120,059 coronavirus cases in the United States and 1,993 deaths.

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