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People gathering at Gandy Beach ‘was a disaster,’ Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says

Three deputies are now stationed on Gandy Boulevard to stop people from gathering on the sand.
Pinellas County Sheriff, Sgt. Bryan Bingham talks with a couple reminding them of social distancing from others not in their household. Despite warnings and roadblocks dozens of vehicles made their way onto the Pinellas County side of Gandy blvd. at the unofficial Gandy Beach on the first weekend of the safer at home order on Sunday, March 29, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
Pinellas County Sheriff, Sgt. Bryan Bingham talks with a couple reminding them of social distancing from others not in their household. Despite warnings and roadblocks dozens of vehicles made their way onto the Pinellas County side of Gandy blvd. at the unofficial Gandy Beach on the first weekend of the safer at home order on Sunday, March 29, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 3, 2020|Updated Apr. 3, 2020

As Pinellas County fell under a safer-at-home order, hordes of people packed Gandy Beach to party and enjoy the sunshine despite warnings to keep distance from others during the coronavirus crisis.

But Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri witnessed the revelry last weekend and said Thursday the crowds won’t gather at the site again until all the emergency orders are lifted. He shut it down and stationed three deputies at the site in unincorporated St. Petersburg to keep people away.

Despite warnings and roadblocks dozens of vehicles made their way onto the Pinellas County side of Gandy Boulevard at the unofficial Gandy Beach Sunday, March 29, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Pinellas County Sheriff Deputies at one time responded to the area to remind citizens to keep their distance from others and avoid gathering in groups.
Despite warnings and roadblocks dozens of vehicles made their way onto the Pinellas County side of Gandy Boulevard at the unofficial Gandy Beach Sunday, March 29, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Pinellas County Sheriff Deputies at one time responded to the area to remind citizens to keep their distance from others and avoid gathering in groups. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The location along Gandy Boulevard was strewn with beer cans and liquor bottles and crowds gathering together, he said, calling it a “mess.”

“It was a disaster out there,” Gualtieri told the Pinellas County Commission on Thursday.

The popular party spot drew a majority of people in their 20s and 30s at a time when local governments have urged people to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.

On March 25, commissioners unanimously directed the county’s nearly 1 million residents to stay at home except for essential activity like trips for groceries, medical needs and jobs deemed essential. The step was needed because even after officials closed public access to the county’s 35 miles of beaches a week earlier, people still crowded bookstores and held social gatherings, ignoring warnings that social distancing could stop the spread of the virus. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide order on Wednesday to start on Friday.

From left Amethyst Seitz along with her friend, Perry Strom hang out in a shade of mangroves at Gandy Park in St. Petersburg Sunday,  March 22, 2020.
From left Amethyst Seitz along with her friend, Perry Strom hang out in a shade of mangroves at Gandy Park in St. Petersburg Sunday, March 22, 2020. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]
Related: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issues statewide stay-at-home order

Like all beach access points across the county, warning signs posted at Gandy Beach told people to stay away.

Gualtieri said he drove across the county on Saturday and Sunday to check potential spots where people might gather. He said he spotted a father walking with two children and told the man that revelers ruined it for everybody at the Gandy location. The sheriff told commissioners about one man who defied a deputy’s order to leave. The man later left after being told he would “leave the easy way or hard way," Gualtieri said.

“What was going on there Sunday, we can’t have that,” he said.

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