Beach Closures and Re-Opening in Florida

There is a lot of news today about what is open and what is closed throughout the world due to the most recent pandemic.  For more than a month, most businesses, schools, parks, etc. were required to shut down and most people were asked to stay at home.  As time went on the their appeared to be a flattening of the curve, people started to look for safe ways to re-open the country.  One of the interesting topics in the news is the closure and re-opening of beaches.  Most beaches were at one time all closed, but many people felt that this could be a little extreme as to some there would be no difference if a family sat in their family room or sat on a beach.  The thought of wearing a mask and social distancing were thought by many were enough of a precaution for their safety and going the beach with those same precautions, would be a safe decision.

In the news as many beaches in states such as California and Florida were re-opened, it was reported that a mass number of people were flocking to the beaches and not using the safe habits of social distancing and the use of masks causing many Americans and many leaders in these states to re-close or consider re-closing the beaches.  In Pinellas County in Florida, there are 7 beaches.  On Monday, May 4th, Pinellas Country officials opened all 7 of these with social distancing requirements and they included the re-opening of the beach parking and the beach restroom facilities. (FOX 13 News) Flags are typically flown at each beach to tell beachgoers that it is safe to use the beach.  A green flag is good and a red flag is bad and typically marks the conditions of a beach to swim safely, but in the Coronavirus pandemic situation, flags are being flown to denote additional safety based on the current restrictions for that beach.  Of the 7 beaches that are allowed to be open, 5 of these beaches are flying green flags.  A green flag notes that the beach conditions that day are low hazard, but exercise caution.  The remaining two beaches are flying a double red flag.  This notes that the water is closed to the public.  Currently for these two beaches, this is based on the fact that they do not have the current resources in place to open that beach at this time. (MOTE) While talking to a 65-year old resident, they noted “I have never actually seen a double red flag before, only red, so hopefully, people are taking those flags and what they represent very seriously.” 

In terms of compliance, the Florida beaches are currently tracking the crowds at the 5 beaches with green flags as “few” and the 2 beaches with double red flags as “none”.  A status of “few” represents “Beach is populated; however, you can easily walk to the water without dodging other towels; still have space for sandcastles”.  This is good as this status means that there is clearly room to meet the social distancing requirements of groups no more than 10 people and needing to be 6 feet apart which is the current restriction for an open beach with a green flag in Florida.  Beaches tracking with a status of “none” means “sporadic beach goers, plenty of room for cartwheels and running without kicking sand in someone’s eyes.”  One would expect a double flag beach to also have a status of “none” as this would be in line with people being compliant to the restrictions at this time.  While interviewing a 38-year old bartender from Clearwater Beach, he noted that “he was not surprised that the beaches are still at “few” or “none” at this time of the year.”  He went on to note that “the beach goers come to the beach not to just go to the beach, but to eat, drink, and shop, so as more business around the beaches open, things will start to feel normal again.”

Pinellas County has only experienced 801 Coronavirus cases out of the Florida State total of 38,002 cases confirmed to date and of the 1,539 Florida deaths related to Coronavirus, Pinellas County has only seen 50 of these cases. (WHO)  It seems with these low numbers, opening the beaches at this time seems like a good idea as long as numbers are being monitored so that they do not start to rise again and put people at additional risk.  The jobs that are associated with these beach re-openings are the first step in re-opening the economy in Florida and Pinellas County.  Other businesses, including shops, bars and restaurants that surround these beaches are the next potential steps to open with restrictions.

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