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Coronavirus: Pinellas beaches ‘sparsely populated’ on Monday after closures

Pinellas deputies and Clearwater police say people are following orders to stay off beaches.
Despite "Beach Closed" signs posted along Gandy Beach, many people ignored the county mandate at this location to keep off the beaches on March 22, 2020.
Despite "Beach Closed" signs posted along Gandy Beach, many people ignored the county mandate at this location to keep off the beaches on March 22, 2020. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]
Published Mar. 23, 2020
Updated Mar. 24, 2020

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Days after Pinellas County closed its world-famous beaches, two law enforcement agencies said they have not had problems with crowds ignoring the orders along the 35 miles of sand.

On Monday, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and Clearwater Police Department each said visitors and residents have been compliant since the beaches closed at 11:59 p.m. on Friday and that officers and deputies made no arrests.

Pinellas Sheriff’s Cpl. Chuck Skipper said one of the agency’s aircraft flew over the beaches Monday around noon and reported they were “sparsely populated." The agency, he said, has not been flooded with calls about crowds gathering on the sands.

“We have had zero issues today," Skipper said. “There was virtually nobody out there.”

The decision to close the beaches came after a video went viral on Monday that showed Clearwater Beach packed with visitors, unleashing a flood of accusations that Pinellas elected officials were enabling a public health crisis.

Even as spring break crowds began to thin, the Clearwater City Council voted on Wednesday to close Clearwater Beach effective Monday. Hotel occupancies were expected to drop from 80 percent the prior weekend to 20 percent this past weekend.

But on Thursday, a majority of county commissioners feared the potential catastrophic risks of not acting quickly enough, given that COVID-19 cases locally and across the U.S. are increasing by the day.

The closure of all public beaches in Pinellas, including Clearwater Beach, will be in effect until April 6. The Pinellas County Commission will then decide whether or not to extend the emergency order.

On Monday, Rob Shaw, the spokesman for the Clearwater police, said officers made no arrests this past weekend related to beach closures and that people understood why public officials ordered the closure. The department, Shaw said, more of the same for the remainder of the closure.

“A couple of times we had tourists who wandered onto the sand, and once our officers educated them about the closure, they agreed to move along,” he said. “The first few days of the closure have gone very smoothly.”

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