‘So far, so good’: Sheriff says people complying to rules as Pinellas County beaches reopen

Pinellas County

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Pinellas County beaches are back open after being closed several weeks to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

8 On Your Side spoke with many beachgoers at St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach who were excited to get back out into the sunshine. But others have no plans to go to the beach in fear that people will not abide by the new beach rules and will spread COVID-19.

“People are compliant, people are doing the right thing,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said on Monday.

The sheriff said up and down the coast, he’s pleased with how the first day of reopening went.

“Hopefully, we’ll get our stride and everyone will know what the rules are. But if we have to limit access [moving forward] then we’ll limit access in the name of ensuring it’s done right, people are safe and we don’t have an atmosphere none of us want,” said Sheriff Gualtieri.

The rules from the sheriff’s office are that you must stay in a group less than 10, and your groups must stay 6 feet apart. There are more than 300 deputies patrolling the beach by foot, ATV, boat and helicopter from Sand Key down to Fort DeSoto.

8 On Your Side sent Eagle 8 HD into the air. While our cameras captured what looks like crowded beaches, the sheriff said he thinks they’re doing fine.

Pinellas County County Chair Commissioner Pat Gerard said she is feeling pushback about reopening the beach.

“There are many people not happy with us for doing so,” she said.

She went on to say she hopes beachgoers continue to stay socially distant and prove that the commissioners made the right decision.

We spoke with some who said they will.

“I don’t have any concerns really about it,” said Tiffany Duncan who was soaking up the sun on St. Pete Beach. “Everyone is going by what they should. Everyone’s just out here to have a good time and it’s nice to get out of the house!”

But we spoke with others who are staying away from the beaches, concerned that restrictions won’t work.

“I’m concerned people aren’t going to take the social distancing seriously,” said Anthony Schneider who lives in St. Pete. “I think we’re going to stay on top of one another and it’s very hit or miss,”

Pinellas County’s beaches officially reopened at 7 a.m. Monday. Sheriff Gualtieri said the additional enforcement will continue at least through Mother’s Day weekend.

He added that there will be more than 1,000 signs posted to remind of the social distancing requirements.

Anyone not following the rules will be asked to leave the beach.

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