PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Preparing for a packed weekend on the sand! With Mother’s Day coinciding with the first weekend that Pinellas County beaches are back open, the Pinellas County Sheriff expects beaches to be busy.
On Friday, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office launched a new tool allowing you to see how busy beaches are before you head out the door.
The beach capacity dashboard shows you how busy each beach, parking lot and bridge in Pinellas County is. Just like traffic signals, it uses green, yellow and red. Green means a parking lot, bridge or beach is still open. Yellow means it’s reaching capacity and red means that beach or parking area is full and deputies will be restricting access.
By Friday afternoon, several beaches and parking lots reached capacity including parts of Pass-A-Grille, Gandy Beach, parts of Indian Rocks Beach, parts of Redington Shores, and some parking areas in Bellaire Beach, Clearwater Beach, Madeira Beach, St. Pete Beach, Upham Beach and Treasure Island.
Beachgoers tell us they appreciate having the information at their fingertips to make decisions about their own safety before heading to the sand.
“I think that’s a really awesome idea. So that you can get an idea before you go out what you’re in for,” Bethany Bloomer, who is visiting Clearwater Beach from North Carolina, said.
Harry Kenny, who lives in Clearwater Beach, agrees.
“Communication is everything. We have to know what’s going on and we have to take precautions. If there isn’t communication, there’s chaos,” he added.
The Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is now telling his deputies that they each have the authority to clear out any area of the beach they feel is too busy and to then redirect people to another spot.
The sheriff says this weekend could be a challenge and will determine if it’s safe to keep beaches open as they are — or if more rules are needed.
Large signs are mounted 10 feet high above the sand of Clearwater Beach reminding visitors of the rules: to stay 6 feet apart in groups of 10 or fewer. It’s a rule officers and deputies plan to enforce as tens of thousands of people are expected to flock to the sand.
Dee Taylor, who visited Clearwater Beach on Friday, hopes people will follow the rules.
“We’re happy to see everything. The cones, the command center, the police presence, the volunteers. Anything to stay open. We want to do this right. We don’t want to be closed again,” she said with a sigh.
Kial Gustafson, of Dunedin, believes people will continue to follow social distancing rules, but added, “I am a little concerned as to if there might be a surge in cases.”
Law enforcement leaders say the beach capacity dashboard will be crucial this weekend to keeping people safe. They’re urging everyone to check to see which beaches and parking lots are full before heading out to the sand.