PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – In a major move towards re-opening public spaces, Pinellas County Commissioners voted Thursday morning to end the social distancing restrictions for the county’s playgrounds, pools, and beaches.
When you go to enjoy the sun, sand and water at any Pinellas County beach, you can still expect to see socially distancing signs in place. But deputies now won’t be patrolling to make sure beachgoers follow the rules.
“We’ve been out there since May 4 when the beaches were reopened,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “It’s really just time to take the training wheels off and let people do it on their own.”
“I think it’s a very bad idea,” said Fort DeSoto beachgoer Steve Lillienstein. “People are getting the message that it’s safe and everything is fine and it’s life back to normal. I don’t think any kind of administrative decision that sends that message is good right now.”
“I’d say they’re just wrong about that,” said Sheriff Gualtieri. “It sends the right message that we trust the public to do the right thing and I think people have demonstrated that.”
Commissioners said they still strongly encourage beachgoers to use social distancing, but it will no longer be mandated.
“We did a little swimming out there, wading in the water.,” said another Fort Desoto beachgoer, Paul Cook.
He and his wife Linda Cook still plan to keep their distance from others.
“I like social distancing, I’m going to continue to do it. At our age, we both have medical problems so there is no way we want to be around people,” said Linda.
“There’s no cure for the virus,” said Lillenstein.
He said he’s at least relieved to hear that the signs will remain standing.
“Anything that makes people take it seriously, that’s what’s important,” said Lillenstein.
In addition to lifting social distancing restrictions on the beach, Pinellas County Commissioners decided not to move forward with an ordinance they put in place last week restricting boaters just off Fort Desoto.
Pinellas County reversed its decision to limit boater access at Bunces Pass. Commissioners were concerned the mix of boat traffic, swimmers and seaplanes was dangerous.
After implementing the ordinance last week, 8,000 plus people signed a petition opposing the move.
At Thursday’s meeting Commissioner Kathleen Peters made a motion to officially rescind the ordinance and implement a wake zone. The county attorney says they have to wait two weeks before doing that.