Florida’s Sarasota County Commission voted Wednesday to reopen their beaches starting on April 27, but only for certain activities. The county closed its beaches on March 19 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
A tweet from the Sarasota County Government said people will only be allowed to walk, run, swim, surf and fish at the beaches. Sarasota is located in Central West Florida with six barrier islands — all called keys — spanning 40 miles of coastline and beaches. Even though the beaches are reopening, social distancing rules are still in place.
According to Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune, playgrounds and concession areas will be closed, and things like beach yoga, drum circles and team sports that people play on the beach are not allowed. The reasons cited for opening the beach are for mental health and exercise, with one commissioner calling for no restrictions at the beach at all, according to the paper. Commissioner Christian Ziegler said in today’s meeting, people have been “cooped up, you can only keep the lid on Americans for so long.”
Other Florida Counties Will Open Beaches With Varying Restrictions
Charlotte County, just south of Sarasota County, decided to open its beaches with no restrictions on April 27, and dog parks and sports fields are set to open in that county on April 24, according to a press release. However, the county says no organized activities are allowed.
Flagler County on Florida’s Atlantic side opened its 18 miles of beaches Wednesday on a limited, trial basis, according to their county government.
County Administrator Jerry Cameron said in the release, “Our residents have been very compliant with the trails at our parks, and that makes us very confident that this limited beach opening will be successful. The degree to which we can expand the hours is dependent on how the public responds to this initial re-opening.”
People who go to the beach are not allowed to congregate, and the hours for visitation are limited. Walking, biking, surfing and fishing are permitted.
According to Newsweek, other Florida counties where the beaches are open are Bay, Brevard, Dixie, Gulf, Levy, Monroe, Okaloosa and St. Johns. Jacksonville’s Duval County was met with criticism after it opened last week and photos of a crowded beach made their way around social media and to various media outlets.
Every county has its own rules and hours that the beaches are permitted to be open. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference on April 17 that some municipalities are fine to start reopening beaches. He said as long social distancing and safe practices are followed, it’s important for people to be able to get sunshine, fresh air and exercise. The paper quoted DeSantis saying counties need to “Do it in a good way. Do it in a safe way.”
With COVID-19 Still Spreading, Some Say it’s Too Soon to Open Beaches
Florida is still working to increase its testing capacity, according to the state’s Department of Health. About 10% of those tested in Florida have been found to have the virus. As of April 21, 28,309 people have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 893 died. As of April 21 there were 260,320 negative test results.
News4Jax reported that a Jacksonville infectious disease specialist told them he thinks it’s unwise to reopen so soon. Dr. Mohammed Reza said:
I think we’re prematurely opening up the beaches. The way I can describe it is, I prescribe you a prescription for 10 days for a bacterial infection. You take that for two or three days and you’re feeling better, ‘Oh, I don’t need to take it anymore.’ That’s exactly what we’re doing at this point. This is scary because that infection will get a lot worse and come back with a vengeance. We know this from other countries.
Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham told Fox News that he along with the three other mayors in Duval County decided together that they “thought that the public was ready to maintain the social distancing standards and to exercise good judgment and it’s paid off very well.”
Latham said they’ve had no issues with people breaking social distancing rules and the only arrest at the beach has been on an out-of-state murder warrant. They’ve issued no tickets or citations otherwise and said that there was more of that when the beaches were closed because people were sneaking out there anyway.
Heavy has asked the Florida Department of Health for its take on the beaches reopening and is awaiting a reply.