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People Flock To Indiana Beaches For Memorial Day Weekend Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The unofficial start of summer looks a lot different in the middle of a pandemic -- at least in Illinois. Across the border in Indiana is a different story.

More than 2 million people visited the Indiana Dunes National Park in 2019. Judging by the size of the crowd Sunday, they may be on track to approach that number, despite COVID-19. The beaches may be smaller due to high water levels and erosion, but that wasn't scaring people away from Porter Beach.

Beachgoers CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli spoke with seemed nonchalant about a disease that has sickened close to 1.7 million Americans. Although nearly 100,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19, social distancing didn't even seem to be possible on the stretch of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Some people sought room by setting their towels up amid the seagrass or off the beaten path, but social distancing was about as common as masks in the crowded Sandy oasis from the heat.

Cara Nebel and her friends arrived at the beach at noon but didn't actually get onto the sand for two hours.

"Every other beach was super crowded, like couldn't even get in," Nebel said. "Police weren't letting people in."

After being turned away from three beaches they finally made it onto Miller Beach by around 2 p.m.

Nebel said she would have gone onto the crowded beach if she could have, saying she is not worried about COVID-19.

Michael Ortiz didn't have a mask bt says he feels pretty comfortable because he's following the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House.

"The CDC and the president have released guidelines of safely being outside and gather, so I was fine with guidelines," he said.

Deleon Palmer was so happy to be out of quarantine he couldn't restrain himself once his feet touched the sand. And he wasn't about to flip out because he didn't have a mask.

"I mean, nobody really wants to think about the COVID-19 when they are having a good time," Palmer said.

About 45 miles to the west there was not much fun being had at Dan Ryan Woods on Chicago's South Side. It was completely desolate when CBS 2 crews showed up. The parking lots were closed, and that pretty much kept the crowds away from the 250 acre park.

Technically people are allowed to use the park, but the restrooms and drinking fountains are closed.

With Chicago's Lakefront still shut down, people headed across Lake Shore Drive to Grant Park. And despite temperatures soaring into the 80s, not everyone was clamoring to be on the waterfront.

"I personally wouldn't go to the beach, but to each his own," said Asa Barron.

Barron says with the beach in reach it was tough not to go there during his stay in Chicago.

Asa Barron says with the beach in reach, it was tough not to go there during his stay in Chicago.

"I don't think Illinois should continue to keep things locked down," he said. "I think the beach should open. People should be able to enjoy it."

Monday is expected to be warm, and many people on the beach Sunday said they plan to be back at the beaches on Memorial Day. It's a tradition they say they plan to continue, COVID-19 or not.

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