Due to impact from other Florida beaches closing, county officials decided to close all Sarasota and Manatee county beaches by Saturday morning.
Manatee County beaches will close at 6 a.m. Friday and Sarasota County beaches will close at 6 a.m. Saturday, county leaders ordered today.
The decision came after leaders from both counties expressed concerns about the effect of other Florida beach closures may have on the size of crowds headed here. The city of Clearwater voted Wednesday to close Clearwater Beach for two weeks starting at 6 a.m. Monday, March 23. Pinellas County leaders were meeting in emergency session Thursday to consider what to do about the remainder of the counties beaches.
On Wednesday, the city of Tampa decided it would close its beaches until further notice. Several beaches in South Florida have closed, too.
Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said area beachgoers were following guidelines set forth by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, such as keeping groups below 10 people and staying 6 feet away from others. However, if more people came to Sarasota beaches, he said it could become more difficult.
"Our residents and our visitors have done what we asked, but we're worried about the gridlock and other such things that might come into play with those other beaches closing," Lewis said.
Manatee County Public Safety Director Jake Saur said Manatee employees have been working throughout the day to prepare county beaches and parks near the beaches for closure.
Manatee and Sarasota County public beach parking lots will be barricaded.
"We do not take this closing lightly," Saur said. "We know what this means and the implications for the community, but we felt it imperative to the public health."
Sarasota County lifeguards will continue to work from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily, said Director of Emergency Services Rich Collins. Additionally, large signs will be placed along the beaches and on major roads leading to the beaches to deter visitors.
Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer said public beach access points in that town will be shut down, but residents with private access will be permitted on the beach, as long as they are following public-gathering guidelines. The same rules will apply to Sarasota residents.
Lewis said he is unsure how long the closures will last, though government officials are working with law enforcement officers on best strategies to keep people away from the beaches.
Residents can view recent county closures and COVID-19 information on the county's website or text SRQCOVID19 to 888-777 for live updates.
This article will be updated.