PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Pinellas County is holding off on reopening its beaches during the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday county commissioners approved to extend the local state of emergency until at least Friday, April 24.
8 On Your Side spoke with some bummed out beach-side businesses. “This is the 1st time in 40+ years I can remember being out of any income for this long a period of time,” said Matthew Loder, one of the owners of the family-owned Crabby Bills seafood restaurant.
The beaches were closed last month to limit the spread of the virus. According to the Director of the Florida Health Department, as of Thursday, 514 people in Pinellas County tested positive for COVID-19 and the virus has taken 14 lives. He said the surge of cases is not expected to hit for another week or two.
The move to shut down beaches came after a number of viral videos surfaced in March, showing massive crowds of people on Clearwater Beach.
The issue was up for consideration during an online Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday. Commissioners Kathleen Peters and Dave Eggers argued the board should consider reopening parts of beaches for exercise. However, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri opposed the move.
“Any decision that has to be made is all or nothing,” Gualtieri said. “It creates an enforcement nightmare. When you go down this path, you need to follow it through.”
“People are being safe,” Peters said. “People are being responsible. It’s important to many of the people who live in condos. We can trust the people in Pinellas County.” No one seconded the motion.
The Sheriff continued “Some people use [the beaches and pools] for exercise but some people consider exercise chugging a Budweiser in the pool. It really…it has to be an all or nothing.”
Local businesses, like Crabby Bills, are disappointed. There are 6 Crabby Bills seaside locations from St.Pete to Clearwater that have been closed for almost a month. “We’re disappointed [with the decision to keep beaches shut down] because we think this is just another step. Eventually, we’re going to have to take those steps to re-opening the country or our life as we know it,” said Loder.
The sheriff said for now we have to keep the shutdown status quo. “There’s a lot of diligence and due diligence going into the decision-making process,” said Sheriff Gualtieri.
“We’ll eventually all get through this,” said Loder. He said he looks forward to opening up their restaurants again when the pandemic is over.
The board said they can discuss opening beaches and pools again at the meeting on Tuesday.
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