The Maryland tourist town is pushing for a soft reopen ahead of the tourist season.

Ocean City will be opening its beaches and boardwalk to the public beginning Saturday, May 9. The surprise decision comes just days as the city’s tourism agency ran ads on local stations of an empty beach and Mayor Rick Meehan extended the original closure to May 15.

But don't get too excited just yet: The hotels in the area remain closed through May 22 to anyone except emergency responders and those in need of emergency housing. 

The new opening date was announced on Monday, May 4, following a town council meeting. The mayor and town council have decided to open the beaches in order for local residents to get out, exercise, and enjoy some autonomy. The statewide stay-at-home order is still in place and requires anyone traveling from outside the state to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Residents must still follow social distancing guidelines when visiting the beach in Ocean City.

The beaches, boardwalk, and inlet parking lots will be open, but the city is not yet ready to welcome visitors to the small town. Most businesses remain closed and restaurants are still in carryout mode. The latest numbers show only 80 cases of coronavirus and two confirmed deaths in Worcester County. Next door, in Wicomico County, officials are struggling with an outbreak in an Eastern Shore poultry plant that has killed 10 and sickened 480.

Parking lot at the Boardwalk in Ocean City

The parking lot at the Boardwalk in Ocean City, courtesy Christa Emmer

The new opening date is not meant to be an invitation for tourists to flood the beach town, but more of a dry run ahead of the summer season. Hotels and vacation rentals remain closed so any visit you make to the shore would have to be a day trip.

When tourist season does return, drivers won't face as many expected delays. Empty roads during the shutdown allowed crews to complete the Chesapeake Bay Bridge westbound lane project last month, a year ahead of schedule. Beaches in Delaware will remain closed through May 15, except for Bethany Beach, which will not open until June.