Cool, blustery weather across the region Saturday did what many feared the coronavirus could not: keep droves of beachgoers at home for the start of the Memorial Day weekend, helping avoid the scene of large crowds packing the shores.
State Police reported fewer people than normal at area beaches, a day after Governor Charlie Baker urged people to remain vigilant against the virus and not erase the progress from two months of lockdown measures.
On the first weekend since the state began the first phase of its reopening, officials reported 76 new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the state’s death toll to 6,304. The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak began grew to 91,662, with 773 newly reported cases.
But in the fight to slow the virus, there are many signs of progress. The state’s three-day average of COVID-19 deaths fell to 75 as of May 20, the sixth consecutive day of decline and a 50 percent drop from the beginning of the month.
The number of people in the hospital due to the disease also continued to decrease. The three-day average number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients fell to 2,319 as of Friday, from 2,412 a day earlier, the state reported.
Memorial Day weekend traditionally means days spent at the beach, followed by cookouts in the evenings, to ring in the unofficial start of summer.
But the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus has upended tradition: The state’s unemployment rate in April was above 15 percent, compared to less than 3 percent in March. Many businesses have been shuttered and large groups can’t gather in public places.
Those measures have meant an unusually muted start to the season. In Somerville, the normally bustling Assembly Row was nearly a ghost town, save for a long line of masked customers waiting to shop at Trader Joe’s.
David Procopio, a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, said the agency’s Cape Cod barracks reported much lower traffic volume than usual for Memorial Day weekend. The bridges, the rotary, and Route 6 have all seen lower than normal usage for a holiday weekend, he said.
And State Police reported fewer people than normal at beaches along the North Shore to the South Coast, Procopio said. The agency attributed the lower turnout to a combination of the public health situation and the cool weather, he said.
One exception was in South Boston, where beaches were fairly busy with a good number of visitors, he said. No public safety issues were reported at any of the beaches that State Police patrol, he said.
“We are pleased that the public thus far this weekend appears to be continuing to practice the precautions necessary to defeat this virus,” Procopio said.
Brian Carlstrom, superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore, also said officials have seen fewer visitors due to the damp and cool weather.
Carlstrom, who oversees local areas like Coast Guard Beach in Eastham and Race Point in Provincetown, said they have been consistently urging visitors to keep a safe distance and wear a face covering when that is not possible.
“Most of our visitors are practicing these messages,” Carlstrom said.
Revere Beach was mostly empty on Saturday afternoon, with the exception of a couple dozen kite surfers who took advantage of the strong winds gusting off the ocean. Back Bay resident Rachel Cossar welcomed the breezy weather as she chatted with a friend and watched her husband glide over the water.
“It’s so windy that you’re not worried about breathing in the air,” she said.
Several people stopped to take photographs of the colorful sails, including Matt Frank, who visits the beach each year for the International Sand Sculpting Festival. Frank said he was happy to see most people complying with social distancing measures, although he imagined things were different during Friday’s warm weather.
“When there’s too many people in one spot, everything gets frazzled, which is why I avoid these places when they’re busy,” he said.
On Sunday, houses of worship will be open for the first time since the state’s stay-at-home advisory took effect in March. Earlier this month, more than 250 pastors from churches across the state called on Baker to ease those restrictions. But even with the green light to reopen, most probably won’t.
Three local pastors said most Massachusetts churches would be unable to host Sunday services because of logistical challenges. Churches must secure protective gear and address myriad questions about adding social distancing to practices meant to bring congregations close together, they said.
Most churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston will wait until next weekend to reopen, officials said. Cardinal Sean O’Malley will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, but the church doors will remain closed and the Mass will be broadcast on Catholic TV.
The Rev. Roberto Miranda, pastor of Congregation Lion of Judah in Boston, said his church is “still in the process of exploring how to do our reopening safely.”
“I’m not sure I know of any church that will be beginning tomorrow at full speed, although I’m sure there are some,” Miranda said in an e-mail.
On Castle Island, crowds were thin Saturday afternoon, with no more than 20 people in view in any one spot. As people walked, biked, and roller-bladed along the shore, some eschewed mask-wearing.
Among them were Paul Wagner, 26, of South Boston, who met up with his longtime best friend, an ICU nurse at a Boston hospital he had not seen since February.
“You can’t really breathe” with a mask on, Wagner said.
Elsewhere on Castle Island, Ellie Laukaitis, 26, and Johnny Webitsky, 26, a North End couple, played catch while wearing masks. They were on Castle Island for a picnic with friends they hadn’t seen in months.
“Everyone has a different idea about what is acceptable,” Webitsky said. “I’m trying not to judge as much as possible.”
Even with the restrictions, it was possible to forget about the pandemic and changes to everyday life Saturday.
Outside Sullivan’s, Giovanni Sanchez, 12, of Jamaica Plain, eagerly tried to jam a cheese fry into his mouth, forgetting the mask that covered the lower part of his face. Usually his younger brother Ezequiel was the messy one, said his mother, Erika Sanchez.
With William J. Day Boulevard closed along Pleasure Bay to encourage social distancing, it had been about a 20-minute walk to Sullivan’s. It was a small price to pay.
“Worth it,” Giovanni said. “These are good fries.”
Globe correspondent Abigail Feldman contributed to this report.
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