PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- — The Pinellas County Sheriff is making his opinion clear: he does not support reopening beaches and private pools as cases of COVID-19 climb in Tampa Bay.
On Thursday morning, Pinellas County leaders are expected to weigh in on the idea of opening beaches and private pools, like the ones at condos and apartment buildings, for exercise only. People at the pool and beach would still be required to keep their distance and not gather in large groups. At the beach, people would only be allowed to walk and not camp out on the sand.
Pinellas County Commissioners are also considering only opening the water of the pools but not the decks surrounding them, to limit the number of people gathering.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a virtual question and answer session Tuesday that he is against the idea of partially opening beaches. He says Pinellas County’s peak number of COVID-19 cases is not expected until April 26 and compared opening pools and beaches to taking medication like Penicillin. The sheriff says you wouldn’t start a prescription and not finish it.
He believes opening up the beaches too soon will have adverse effects on the number of cases in Tampa Bay.
In a commission meeting on Monday, at least three commissioners said the idea of partially opening pools and beaches should be considered.
Commissioner Kathleen Peters was the most vocal. She believes pools are especially important for residents in Pinellas County of advance age who may use pools to treat arthritis.
Ed Manola lives in a large condo community in Pinellas County and says he supports the idea of opening back up the private pools, which he says he and his neighbors use for therapy and low impact exercise.
“We had aerobics classes every day. It was nice for the older people. You could get in there and do easier aerobics and now we have nothing. We have nothing at all,” he said. Yet, he also believes people would need to self police and keep their distance.
Gualtieri also says, unlike Hillsborough County, they do not plan to add a curfew in Pinellas County. The county does not plan to mandate anyone to wear masks, either.
Commissioners in Pinellas County are expected to make a decision Thursday morning on whether partially opening beaches and pools is warranted.