Coronavirus Florida: Beaches in Pinellas County remain open for now

Beachgoers relax under cabanas at Clearwater Beach, Florida on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As of Monday afternoon, Pinellas County is keeping beaches open.
Beachgoers relax under cabanas at Clearwater Beach, Florida on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As of Monday afternoon, Pinellas County is keeping beaches open. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published March 16, 2020|Updated March 16, 2020

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As cities and states across the country shutter bars, restaurants and other gathering places, Pinellas County plans to keep beaches open until state emergency officials request the popular destinations to close.

“We are minimizing interactions and encouraging people to keep social distance,” Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said Monday afternoon.

Officials are monitoring the beaches to make sure crowds don’t swell. On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. Schools have closed, offices have cleared out and major sports leagues have shut down to slow the pandemic spread.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he wouldn’t support closing beaches. The Tampa Bay region hasn’t seen the same levels of community spread that have occurred in South Florida, where South Beach in Miami has imposed a curfew. He added that, with event cancellations and business closures, people are “going to need some sort of an outlet."

”This is going to be around for awhile," he said.

Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has infected more than 175,000 people worldwide, killing more than 6,700, including four Floridians. It causes symptoms like coughing and fatigue but can also lead to respiratory infections, dangerous especially for elderly people and those with chronic health conditions.

During a statewide conference call with emergency management officials on Monday, Burton said the state did not ask local leaders to close the beaches. The county will close beaches if the state makes the request. Burton said he expected city leaders across the county to discuss the status of beaches during an afternoon call on Monday.

The county owns one of the nation’s most-popular beaches. Fort De Soto is a natural waterfront recreation area of 1,136 acres and is typically packed with thousands of beachgoers at this time of the year. The county is home to a total of 35 miles of beach areas.

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