CW44 News At 10

PINELLAS (CW44 News At 10) – Pinellas County officials discuss beach plans ahead of July 4th weekend. “We’ve been receiving a lot of emails asking us to close the beaches,” said Ken Welch, Pinellas County Commissioner.

Just four days ahead of the July 4th weekend, Pinellas County commissioners started a conversation during Tuesday’s board meeting after receiving emails from citizens to close beaches. The big question: should beaches remain open during the pandemic? “We know we have an issue with people intermixing in large groups, but we also know that indoor places are much higher risk,” said Barry Burton, Pinellas County Administrator.

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Miami and Fort Lauderdale beaches are among those already closing for the holiday weekend due to the virus. While the majority of commissioners mentioned they would not support the idea. “I really don’t believe the beaches are the problem,” said Kathleen Peters, Pinellas County Commissioner.

Pinellas County Commission Chair, Pat Gerard echoed her disagreement, “I’m not in favor of closing the beach either, I think it’s counterproductive at this point.”

“I do not support that at this point but I also am concerned about having a presence on the beach and making sure we don’t have a replay of Spring Break,” said Ken Welch, Pinellas County Commissioner.

They recalled Memorial Day weekend where hundreds of law enforcement officers were present along the coastline. “I’d like to see us step up enforcement in those places we know are going to be hot spots,” said Pat Gerard, Pinellas County Commission Chair.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says it’s not that simple, “We’ll keep an eye on it, but to do what we did before with 300 deputies, law enforcement officers every place and the amount of personnel and the costs and to try and implement that with a couple days-notice, I’m not sure we’re accomplishing anything and there will be a whole lot of push back,” said Gualtieri. He says a large enforcement presence disbursing any crowds doesn’t exactly fix the problem during a pandemic. “So now you’ve got a situation where the hotels are extremely high occupancy plus you’ve got the locals. And you start pushing people away, all you’re going to do is push them into the pools, the pool decks and the hotels.” Sheriff Gualtieri is counting on citizens to take on the task. “Where does personal responsibility come in? When do we stop holding everybody’s hand.. ‘cause either they’re going to do it or they’re not at this point,” said Gualtieri.

At this time, there are no local orders that pertain to the beaches; however, we are still under Governor Ron DeSantis’s phase-two order, which does impact your day at the beach. Your group can be no larger than 50 people and you must still remain 6 ft. apart from other groups. Stick with CW44 News for this developing story.