Folks who have been hoping Pinellas County officials will move forward with a plan to reopen the county’s beaches now have a powerful ally.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
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In an open letter posted to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page on Saturday afternoon, Gualteri said the county has effectively flattened the curve of new coronavirus cases, and that “this week is the right time” to reopen beaches and pools.
“At this time, Pinellas County residents have adjusted to the new norm of social distancing, and I believe they will continue to responsibly use these best practices on our beaches and in the pools,” Gualtieri wrote. “However, if necessary, PCSO has the resources to ensure compliance through a gentle reminder.
“It is my trust in Pinellas County residents and belief in the available data that makes me confident that we can safely open our beaches and pools and this week is the right time to do so.”
The Pinellas County Commission voted to close the beaches effective March 20, and last week, did not vote to reopen but said it was under consideration. That order has remained in place even though Gov. Ron DeSantis’ state order on April 1 does not preclude counties from reopening beaches – but only for essential outdoor activities such as walking, biking and fishing, and provided groups don’t gather in large crowds.
On Monday, beaches in Sarasota County reopen with those same restrictions.
Pinellas County commissioners could decide to reopen the beaches during its Tuesday meeting.
In the letter, Gualtieri said the county has “accomplished the goal of stabilizing the number of new cases.”
“Our community has averaged about 15 new cases per day for the past 20 days, including specific increases from a couple of nursing homes,” Gualtieri wrote.
“The percentage of positive tests in Pinellas County has remained stable at approximately 5%, which is half the statewide average of approximately 10%. Florida, and specifically Pinellas County, continues to see a significantly lower rate of incidence of COVID-19 cases than other areas of the country.”
Gualtieri wrote the crowds that gathered during spring break were a major factor in shutting the beaches down and help ensure large groups would not congregate.
That, he wrote, is no longer an issue.
“The people who caused the beach congestion—Spring Breakers—are long gone,” Gualtieri wrote. “The people who are using the private beaches, which have remained open, are acting responsibly overall and adhering to the social distancing requirements.”
He added the county is “well under capacity” for hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators, and has the capacity to handle “any increase” in coronavirus cases – which he says “will likely occur once closures are lifted.”
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