Article Courtesy of The St.
By Margie Manning
Published May 4, 2020
Pinellas County beaches will reopen Monday, May 4 at 7 a.m., following a vote by
the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners.
separately voted to allow pools in condominiums, hotels and
homeowners associations, as well as playgrounds at childcare
facilities, to reopen Thursday morning, April 30 at 7 a.m.
Commissioners are expected to meet later this week to
consider how to deal with businesses that have been closed
under a statewide stay at home order. They are waiting on
word from Gov. Ron DeSantis on what he intends to do once
the state order expires on Thursday.
Pinellas beaches have been closed since March 21, in a move
that commissioners hoped would flatten the curve and slow
the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, Pinellas County had 709 confirmed cases of
Covid-19 and 31 deaths, said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the
Florida Department of Health-Pinellas County. Seventeen of
the deaths were associated with long-term care facilities,
Treasure Island's beach
On the local and regional level there’s been a plateau in new cases over the
last few weeks, Choe said.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said he kept a close eye on those
data trends before recommending re-opening the beaches and pools.
While some communities in Florida have re-opened with limited hours and only
allow visitors to walk, run or otherwise exercise on the sand, the Pinellas
beaches won’t have those restrictions.
“The key is that people spread out,” Burton said. “We have 35 miles of beach
so people do have the opportunity to spread out.”
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri described his plans to enforce social
distancing on the beaches. His office will set up signs at every beach
entrance and on the beaches themselves cautioning people to stand six feet
apart and not gather in groups of 10 or more.
“We’ll have a minimum of 100 deputies out there. My plan is to have a person
at every beach access point,” Gualtieri said. “What I envision is a strong
presence that creates a reminder and that we stop any potential issue before
it becomes an issue.”
Approval came after nearly four hours of debate, including about two hours
of public comment. The majority of the those who called in to the online
commission meeting said they favored opening beaches and pools, but St.
Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon urged commissioners to hold
off on the move.
“Our priorities are in the wrong spot. Beaches should not be at the
forefront of our mind right now when we have so many small business owners
hurting,” Blackmon said. “A lot of people who are struggling to put food on
the table, the last thing on their mind is getting to the beach.”
A survey by St. Pete Polls on Monday night found that 56 percent of Pinellas
County residents opposed opening the beaches, with 37 percent of residents
in favor of the measure, said Peter Schorsch, publisher of Florida Politics,
a news blogging site.
“Some of you on the commission have relied on our polling for your political
ambitions and have trusted those number before, I ask you to trust those
numbers again,” Schorsch asked commissioners. “Eighty-three people died in
Florida yesterday. It was our record amount of deaths. We are not out of the
Commissioner Ken Welch cast the only vote against re-opening the beaches.
Welch said he is concerned that there has been too little testing done in
Pinellas County to know how many people actually have or have had the virus.
While the total number of Covid-19 cases in Pinellas County continues to
rise, staying at home is not sustainable in the long term, said Dr. Angus
Jameson, medical director at Pinellas County Emergency Management Services.
“We’re going to need to learn to live with this virus over the next three
months, six months, maybe even 18 months until we have a vaccine or a high
enough level of immunity within the community and it’s still under some
debate whether you can get re-infected,” Jameson said. “But if that’s the
case, we need to get to a point where we figure out how to sustainably keep
this virus at bay without over-taxing the community.”