Beaches Close on Spring Break as Florida Feels Impact of Pandemic

TAMPA, Fla. (CN) – In a sign of Covid-19’s widespread impact, Florida officials announced the closure of some of the state’s most popular beaches on Thursday at the height of spring break.

Following the lead of mayors in Miami Beach and Ft. Lauderdale earlier this week, Pinellas County ordered all the county’s gulf beaches closed for two weeks. Lee County, home to Ft. Myers Beach and Sanibel Island, announced closures on Thursday.

The Panhandle counties of Walton, Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa also voted to close their beaches. Sarasota and Manatee counties on the Gulf Coast followed suit later in the day.

Beachgoers enjoy a sunny day in Destin, Fla., on Wednesday. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

On Wednesday, Naples and Tampa closed their beaches. Officials also announced Clearwater Beach — the most popular beach on Florida’s west coast — would close on Monday for two weeks.

Panama City and Daytona Beach, two of the state’s other popular spring break destinations, have not yet closed their beaches.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis stopped short of ordering all of the state’s beaches closed Wednesday.

“What we’re going to be doing for the statewide floor for beaches, we’re going to applying the CDC guidance of no group on a beach more than 10 and you have a distance apart if you’re going to be out there,” DeSantis said. “So that applies statewide.”

A day earlier, DeSantis ordered all bars closed for 30 days and restaurants to serve at half capacity.

As of Thursday, Florida has 390 confirmed cases of the coronavirus known as Covid-19, an increase of 62 positives from the night before, according to the state’s Department of Health. Five people have died in the state.

Even still, spring break revelers gathered at bars and restaurants across the state all week. In a widely shared video by CBS News, young people on Miami Beach showed disappointment over the beach ban.

“If I get corona, I get corona,” a red-faced reveler told the news organization in the video. “I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.”

In Pinellas County, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri urged the county commission not to close beaches because people are not congregating in as large of numbers as earlier in the week.

In addition, if people stay on the wet part of the sand, the state has jurisdiction and deputies cannot enforce the ban, he told commissioners at an emergency meeting on Thursday

Gualtieri said with schools and colleges out for the rest of the semester, many spring breakers may congregate in more closed-in spaces like restaurants or hotel rooms.

“Where are they supposed to go?” the sheriff asked.

“They can go home,” Commissioner Janet Long replied.

“That’s not going to happen,” Gualtieri said. “That’s not reality.”

As some young people ignore the warnings, the state’s health officials forced social distancing on the elderly in nursing homes, assisted living centers and adult daycares.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health ordered all such facilities closed to visitors for 30 days.

At least 19 nursing home residents are suspected or confirmed to have the virus, state officials said on Wednesday. They refused to list the facilities, citing privacy concerns.

In Broward County, a person in an assisted living facility died earlier this week from Covid-19.

“I’m about to go crazy,” Joan Stacken said by phone from an assisted living center on Florida’s Gulf Coast. “I feel like I’m in jail.”

The 90-year-old said she has not heard of anyone in her building contracting the virus. She herself has not been tested. Normally residents eat together in a big dining room, she said, but now food is brought to her door.

“I don’t care about eating together, but it’s sitting down and talking with someone that I like,” she said. “I don’t like the idea of not being to talk to anybody.”

“It could be a lot worse, I guess,” she added.

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