SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Sarasota County is the first in the Tampa Bay area to allow some access to its public beaches amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"There’s a sense of freedom somehow that I don’t think I’ve ever quite appreciated before. We feel like it's paradise regained today," said Cathy Butry, seasonal resident.
Paradise regained, but with restrictions. Beaches are only open for exercise, like walking, running, biking, and swimming.
"It means a lot because I have rental property out on the beaches, plus I like to see people starting to enjoy it again," said Ron Looney.
County leaders voted unanimously Wednesday to allow access to nearly all of its 35 miles of shore line for limited use.
As of now, people are not allowed to lounge or lay on the sand. Umbrellas, chairs, alcohol and coolers are also not allowed on the beach.
Sarasota County will keep beach parking lots closed to help deter crowds from gathering.
While some question the timing of reopening the beaches during this fight against COVID-19, others say it is critical to helping small businesses rebound.
"The rest of us really just need to get back to work or else we’re going to lose our whole life savings is really what it comes down to," said Gus Escalera, operator of Ripfire Pizza & BBQ.
Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knights says deputies are on patrol, not to give citations, but to educate people about the restrictions so they can stay safe.
"People are nervous, people are scared, and there’s no better relief than the beautiful beaches of Sarasota County, Florida," said Knight.
Lido Beach, which is part of the city of Sarasota remains closed. Commissioners say they will revisit the opening of the parking lots in the coming weeks.