Beachgoers will need to limit their groups to 10 people or less, and stay 6 feet away from others.
Volusia County beaches will remain open despite coronavirus concerns, decided the Volusia County Council at its meeting on Tuesday, March 17, following direction by the state.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order impacting bars, nightclubs, restaurants and beaches. The order mandates that all bars and nightclubs in the state close for the next 30 days, and that restaurants limit customers to 50 percent of capacity, with staggered seating so diners are separated by at least 6 feet.
As for beaches, DeSantis asked people limit their gatherings to no more than 10 people, per guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Before the governor's executive order, the council was already considering keeping beaches open.
Volusia County Chair Ed Kelley said he'd been answering emails since Monday from people both wanting the beaches open and those who wanted them closed. However, he sided with those favoring keeping them open.
"Fresh air and so forth are actually probably one of the better things we can have rather than being in a confined enclosed area," Kelley said. "I think taking that right away from people to enjoy the outdoors would be a horrible decision for us at this time as long as we take the necessary precautions to ensure that we're doing our part to stop the spread, if there could be, and I think that's being done."
County Manager George Recktenwald said the issue is the massing of people, and that the county is able to manage the risks by limiting groups to 10 or less, as well as employing methods such as limiting parking at overpopulated beaches and closing ramps to beach driving as needed. Reservations at beach park pavilions have also been capped to groups of 10 or less. The order was made effective at 5 p.m.
If people aren't cooperative, Recktenwald said he could come back to the council for further direction.
"Fresh air and so forth are actually probably one of the better things we can have rather than being in a confined enclosed area."
Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley
"I think that's something we should say to the citizens out there," Recktenwald said. "We need you to help us. We need you to cooperate so that we can enjoy the outdoors during this time. I think it's important to be able to do that, but we need to do it responsibly."
County Councilman Heather Post had concerns. She said if the point of mitigation was to prevent cases of community spread (cases where source of COVID-19 cannot be linked to international travel), then why only do it in "half of the areas."
"Either it's an issue, or it's not, that we need to be worried about," Post said.
She said she wanted to ensure the message the county is sending about COVID-19's threat is clear. She expressed worries about the virus' economic impact and the lost wages and jobs for residents.
County Councilwoman Deb Denys said they should aim to keep businesses open. She mentioned the vendors that need beachgoers for business.
“It’s not an all or nothing approach," Denys said.
Denys said that South Florida shut down its beaches because there aren't drivable beaches and that those local government officials did so for the safety of the employees handling the parking meters.
Volusia County Florida Department of Health Administrator Patricia Boswell said it was a "hard time" for elected officials as they make decisions on closings, but in the case of public beaches, residents should know if someone in their party has a chance of being sick. In that case, they shouldn't be on the beach at all; they should be isolated.
"If you go to the beach with your family members you would know if they have been a case or a close contact," Boswell said.