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Sarasota Wednesday, Apr. 22, 2020 1 year ago

County to open beaches with restrictions

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Sarasota County beaches will be open for essential activities, though the parking lots will remain closed.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

After more than a month of restrictions because of COVID-19, Sarasota County Commissioners began discussions Wednesday on how to reopen the county. 

“Slow and selective are key words I would use when thinking about opening back up,” Chuck Henry, director for Sarasota County Health and Human Services, said.

County Commission heeded that advice, unanimously selecting to lift some restrictions on a major county asset: the beaches. 

Starting Monday, April 27, Sarasota residents will be allowed on public beaches for activities deemed essential by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order such as walking, jogging, fishing and surfing. 

However, beachgoers would not be able to gather in groups or partake in any nonessential activities, such as sun-bathing. Lounging, coolers, umbrellas, towels and chairs will not be allowed. 

“Unless you have been living in a cave, you know the seriousness of the virus and you know what to do to protect yourself,” Commissioner Mike Moran said. “I think it’s time to open up our lives. … We need to trust in the public’s ability to properly protect themselves and others.”

Though beaches will reopen, concessions, playgrounds and public parking will remain closed, though pedestrian access to the beaches would be allowed. 

Several commissioners were in favor of the lot closures, stating it will deter people from bringing items such as coolers and beach chairs that would encourage them to stay all day. 

However, Moran and Commissioner Christian Ziegler hope to soon have a plan for reopening the lots so everyone can access the beaches in a safe way. 

“This is a public access issue,” Ziegler said. “If you’re wealthy enough and you’re lucky to live on the beach, that’s great. But there are a lot of people who pay for the beaches who live inland and I think it should be accessible to them as well.” 

Ziegler suggested opening the lots to at least partial capacity to allow access to all residents. Moran added that parking lot closures could mean more people would park on private property to get to the beaches. 

The county’s decision lines up with neighboring Charlotte County, which decided to open its beaches with restrictions Monday. County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said Manatee County leaders are talking about opening their beaches, but they have not yet made a decision. 

Seventy residents filled out public speaker cards ahead of the meeting and more than 50 of them were in reference to the public beaches. 

Most residents were in favor of opening the beaches, stating it could help improve residents’ mental health and the economy for businesses near the beaches. 

However, some residents felt opening the beaches could cause an influx in beach patronage that could cause an increase in positive cases. 

“There are not enough tests available to determine who is sick, who is not, and who is walking around with the virus, symptom free, but able to spread it,” wrote Ellen DiZlo. “There are too many unknowns and talk of loosening restrictions will give people a false sense of safety and we could go back to square one.”

Commissioners will revisit the restrictions at their next meeting, May 6, to talk about parking possibilities. 

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