CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. - Ever since March 20, Pinellas County beaches were closed -- but not anymore. People can once again feel the sugar sand between their toes, but there are a few things to keep in mind before beachgoers make their way to the Gulf waters.
A dozen beachgoers were already at Clearwater Beach on Monday morning. The group erupted in cheers when the clock struck 7 a.m., signaling the reopening of county beaches. Soon after, umbrellas were quickly shoved into the sand and people plopped down in their foldout chairs.
Pinellas County commissioners decided last week to open up the beaches with a few restrictions. Beachgoers will be able to sunbathe and use the public parking lots, but social distancing will be in place.
Pinellas County deputies are stationed at every beach access point to remind everyone to stay six feet part and no groups of more than 10 are allowed.
Beachergoers maintain social distance on Clearwater Beach after it reopened Monday.
"There will be about 300 law enforcement officers on the beach from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri explained. “We have about 250 deputies plus partnerships with treasure island police, Clearwater police, even the Florida Highway Patrol is going to help out."
The mayor of Clearwater said he is confident there won't be a repeat of the crowded scenes that prompted county officials to shut down the beaches back in March.
In a Facebook post, Clearwater police wrote:
When you grab your sunscreen and your water and your snacks, be sure to also pack your patience and your willingness to work with others.
Chief Slaughter also wants to remind residents that we don't all have to head to the beach on the same day. We realize everyone is tired of being in their own homes and we all miss the beauty of our beach. Feel free to come later in the week, or at a time when there likely are not as many people.
We have gotten through the last six weeks by all working together. We can get through the first part of the next phase together as well.
Some beachgoers used seaweed to apparently help maintain social distance.
In addition to law enforcement on Clearwater Beach, Parks and Recreation employees will serve as beach ambassadors in charge of disinfecting high touch areas and making sure everyone is following CDC social distancing guidelines.
Over the weekend, the city of Dunedin announced that Honeymoon Island State Park will reopen to 50% capacity by 8 a.m. Monday. Only recreational activities will be allowed. No chairs, blankets, lounging or coolers will be allowed.
Picnic shelters and the Nature Center will remain closed. Caladesi Island will remain closed.
"Responsible means stay six feet apart and no more than groups of 10 and enjoy it,” Gualtieri said. "As long as everyone does that, we won't have any problems."
A wide view of Clearwater Beach at noon on Monday.
The reopening will also bring visitors back to beach towns as restaurants and shops are able to open back up again, with limited capacity.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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