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'So far, so good': Pinellas County sheriff says people are social distancing after beach openings

Posted at 5:20 PM, May 05, 2020

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — So far, so good. That’s the message from the Pinellas County Sheriff Tuesday on the second day of beaches being back open.

ABC Action News checked in at a handful of locations Tuesday including Indian Rocks Beach, Madeira Beach, the Dunedin Causeway, Honeymoon Island State Park and Pass-A-Grille, and found most people are following the rules by staying in groups of 10 or fewer and keeping 6 feet apart.

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Pinellas County deputies say overall people are following social distancing rules. Yet, the sheriff is preparing for what could be a very busy Mother’s Day weekend.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told deputies Tuesday if an area gets too crowded, they have the right to clear the sand and send beachgoers to other locations.

Deputies are also cracking down on illegal parking near the beaches.

“We’re going to be moving people around to make sure we don’t run into a situation where they can’t abide by the order,” Sheriff Gualtieri told Pinellas County Commissioners during a zoom meeting.

County leaders also plan to add more signs reminding people to keep their distance at beach access points along 35 miles of coastline.

Deputies also plan to limit capacity at beaches going forward. Once parking near that beach access fills up, deputies can decide to only allow local residents onto the sand.

Changes also took place Tuesday at the Dunedin Causeway, where crowds nearly reached capacity for the second day in a row.

Deputies started to restrict parking on the causeway Tuesday by using cones to redirect cars. The sheriff is also working with Honeymoon Island State Park to increase their capacity from 3,000 visitors to 4,000…which he says should keep people from jamming up the causeway.

Kim Benett brought her kids to the Dunedin Causeway Tuesday and was happy to find people keeping their distance.

“If it was going to be too busy, we might not have stayed but the beaches are beautiful today and people seemed to be spaced apart, so I’m glad that we did come,” she said with a smile.

Of course, with the weekend just a few days away, Sheriff Gualtieri says he’s seeing what more can be done to keep crowds from gathering together. Deputies are also utilizing a helicopter twice a day to fly above crowds and communicate with deputies on the ground about any congested areas on the sand.