Beginning Tuesday morning, the public can once again visit the beach.
After two weeks of waiting for additional information on the spread of COVID-19 in the area, the Sarasota City Commission voted today to reopen Lido Beach.
Following the board’s 4-1 vote at today’s meeting, the city will join other local governments in opening beaches earlier this month. City Manager Tom Barwin said staff would work to reopen Lido Beach Tuesday morning.
As the state advances through a phased reopening process, city officials said they wanted to continue to urge caution while moving on from the mandatory closure at Lido.
“With the economy opening up, I just don’t want the community to get the wrong impression that it’s safe, the virus is gone and we’re past this,” Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said. “Because we are not, and we’re far from it.”
Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Willie Shaw, who previously voted to keep the beach closed, joined commissioners Liz Alpert and Hagen Brody in supporting the reopening. Both Alpert and Brody reiterated their belief that opening the beach did not represent an increased risk relative to other activity already permitted in the city.
“It just makes zero sense to keep the beach closed with the rest of the community opening,” Brody said.
Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie cast the dissenting vote, expressing concern about reopening the beach without instituting additional precautions. Although Shaw said he would support mandating masks at the beach, Freeland Eddie said she believed such a regulation would be difficult to legally enforce.
“When we continue to open places in our community like the beach, like the restaurants, we are inviting this virus to share in the spread,” Freeland Eddie said.
The Florida Department of Health’s reported rate of positive tests in Sarasota County has declined from 7.46% on May 4, when the commission first voted to keep Lido Beach closed, to 5.78% today.
At Monday’s meeting, the commission also discussed the possibility of temporarily closing some streets to vehicular traffic, dedicating that road area to expanded pedestrian and outdoor dining space. Barwin said representatives for downtown business groups indicated no consensus among merchants regarding full street closures for entire blocks.
Barwin said Ron Soto, president of the Sarasota Downtown Enrichment Association, reported broad support for two partial street closures during evening hours. One would be in the 1300 block of Main Street from Palm Avenue to Mira Mar Court; the other would cover a portion of State Street between Lemon Avenue and the entrance to the State Street garage.
Barwin said the city was interested in experimenting with street closures, but did not give an indication when a closure might go into effect.