Newport City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson, Jr. is looking into using drones to monitor mask-wearing on city beaches.
“I would like to use them,” he told the City Council on July 8. “We have one that is being repaired and we have one in the police department. We are discussing how to use them.”
During the biweekly council COVID-19 workshop held July 14, Nicholson showed a 30-second video shot by a drone flying over Easton’s Beach. The drone was used on July 9, showing time-lapse footage of people properly social distancing.
“It looks pretty good,” said Nicholson. “We will continue with our vigilance. We will continue with the drone flyovers at Easton’s [Beach]. Thus far, the staff has done an outstanding job with regards to the beach.”
Reject’s Beach continues to be a problem, however. “I really think that it’s out of control [there],” said councilor Kathryn Leonard. “I think we need to make some changes there.”
The wearing of masks has greatly improved throughout Newport, Nicholson said. Volunteers have handed out 2,000 masks. “We can always do better [in terms of wearing masks], but it will never be 100 percent,” he said.
On July 8, Gov. Gina Raimondo issued tougher restrictions to enforce mask-wearing and quarantines from tourists.
“Using a drone to keep track of what is happening on the beach, or whatever tools you have, will help people comply,” Councilor Justin McLaughlin said.
If they don’t, he said, the city needs to rescind their parking ticket and “send them home.”
The beach has been a “heavy lift,” said Nicholson. “I think things are going pretty well, but there are some issues,” he said.
Erik Reis, who is responsible for city beaches, said they are “running fairly smoothly.
“We check out what is going on at the beach daily; social distancing, environmental conditions, weather conditions,” he said. “Every day we attack the beach conditions in a completely different manner.”
Both said that while the view from above Memorial Boulevard makes the beach look busy, it is not as crowded along the boardwalk. Nicholson called the crowd that descended on Easton’s Beach on the Fourth of July an “anomaly.”
“It’s an urban beach, if you will. We don’t have the luxury of controlling the numbers like Middletown,” he said.
Nicholson said masks are “always an issue,” and Reis said, “There has been some hostile kind of contact [when trying to enforce mask wearing].
“Is it great? It’s about 50 percent [wearing masks], but before it was zero,” Reis said.
At the July 8 meeting, the council asked Nicholson about opening playgrounds and public basketball courts. “The question is constantly cleaning [the equipment],” he said. “People have offered to clean these surfaces on their own. It’s up to the government to come up with a plan, and we don’t have a plan yet.”
The state guidelines discourage the use of playgrounds or basketball courts, he said, and the city does not have the manpower to clean touched equipment on an hourly basis.
The following updates were given at the July 14 workshop:
Probate Court is starting to operate again, with some hearings being held virtually. However, a system for in-person appearances still needs to be developed.
The Zoning Board of Review and the Historic District Commission have had difficulty hearing cases, due to the need to hear testimony and conduct cross-examinations.
The local number of positive COVID-19 cases in Newport has not been updated since July 3. “We are going to see increases in the numbers, but the most important thing is where we are going to be two weeks from now,” Nicholson said.