PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Leaders in Pinellas County are preparing to shut down all public beaches over coronavirus concerns starting at Friday at 11:59 p.m. and then remain closed for at least two weeks. With these incoming changes, many of you have questions about how law enforcement leaders will enforce the new rules.
Clearwater Police and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, alongside other beach community police officers, plan to staff law enforcement employees at the entrance to beach parks, they’ll also patrol on the sand with ATVs.
In Clearwater, the city is even turning to crossing guards to relay the message about beach closures.
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County leaders spent the day Friday adding barricades at the entrance to beach parking lots, which will also close at midnight. They’ll also add signs explaining the closures and which areas are impacted.
Deputies and officers say the goal is education, not writing tickets.
The decision is drastically impacting beach businesses during what should be their busiest time of the year. Clyde Smith, the owner of Bilmar Beach Resort in Treasure Island, furloughed 30 of his employees Friday and says he could be forced to lay off more as beaches officially close.
“From an employment standpoint, it’s the hardest day of a general manager’s career. When I hire a person I say my job is to keep you employed and I feel like I’m not doing my job but we’re doing the best we can,” Smith said with emotion.
In areas that are not closed off, like the popular paved Beach Walk trail in Treasure Island, visitors will see more signs reminding them of the importance of social distancing.
All 35 miles of Pinellas County coastline are impacted by the closures.
Dale Bergman, a seasonal resident from New York wonders how law enforcement will target such a large area.
“The beach is a wide spread amount of land. I can see people chancing it, but if you see the county vehicles coming down your way, that should get you going in the opposite direction,” Bergman said.
Bruno Falkenstein, the owner of the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant says it is disappointing to hear about the closures, but he understands. “I think people should heed the warning and don’t be in big groups. If they would have listened to begin with and not had groups over 10 on the beach, there may not been the reason to close beaches now. Remember its for your own safety and welfare,” he added.
Here’s some frequently asked questions that Pinellas County leaders put together on the beach closures:
What is closing?
All Pinellas County public beaches and public beach parking areas are closed as of midnight, regardless of jurisdiction. This includes recreation access along the Dunedin Causeway and Skyway beach area. Also: Fort De Soto Park is closed at the entry gate except to citizens who have campground reservations or those accessing the boat ramp. Sand Key Park on Clearwater Beach is closed. At Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, the beach area and causeway are closed, but the uplands portion of the park remain open. Camping permits to Shell Key are not being issued.
How long will the closure last?
The closure, effective at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 20, is set to run through April 6. The Board of County Commissioners can extend the closure if COVID-19 remains a threat to public health.
How will it be enforced?
Pinellas County staff posted signage to advise residents and visitors of the closures. Parking areas will be closed off by gate or temporary barricades. Enforcement authorities will patrol the beach areas, with a focus on educating visitors about the need to comply and stay safe.
Why is the closure necessary?
Because Pinellas County has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, they draw large crowds. This is particularly true during spring break. The most effective way we can combat the spread of-COVID-19 at this time is through social distancing. We need to do everything we can to prevent large gatherings.
What about private beach areas?
Private beaches are not closed, but property owners and visitors are asked to conform to CDC guidelines by maintaining six feet of separation between groups and limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people.
Can I access the beach from a private beach and then walk along the rest of the beach?
The closure applies to all public beaches up to the wet sand line, because that is where County’s jurisdiction ends. Citizens accessing the beach from private property and walking below the wet sand line will most likely not be stopped by enforcement areas. However, everyone is asked to follow social distancing guidelines.
What’s still open to the public?
Pinellas County’s other parks and preserves remain open, except for Heritage Village and the education centers at Brooker Creek Preserve and Weedon Island Preserve. (Shelter reservations through April 30 have been canceled, and no new reservations are being accepted.) County-controlled boat ramps remain open. There are many “put-in” areas around the county where individual paddlers can access our waterways.
Are Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island State Parks open?
Honeymoon Island State Park is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, all events and activities have been canceled, and the state is restricting visitor capacity to limit gatherings to fewer than 10 people. Caladesi Island remains accessible via the north end of Clearwater Beach or by boat.
Won’t this hurt businesses?
COVID-19 will continue to have a profound impact on our economy, including our robust tourism industry. However, the focus now is on doing everything we can to keep citizens and visitors safe.