This is the first phase of starting to reopen the county during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volusia County is evaluating plans to reopen the county, a process that will occur in stages, and will begin on Saturday, April 25, with the reopening of three beach ramps for the disabled population.
County Manager George Recktenwald made the announcement during a press conference on Friday, April 24, following the highest peak of new COVID-19 cases in Volusia — a total of 44, bringing the county's total case count to 427 — since the start of the pandemic. Recktenwald said the county has suppressed the surge and allowed health care professionals the ability to meet the need for care and beds.
The three ramps that will reopen on Saturday, April 25, are Third Avenue in New Smyrna Beach, Dunlawton Avenue in Daytona Beach Shores and Williams Avenue in Daytona Beach. Only those with current disabled parking placards will be allowed to drive on the beach, and will be required to stay within 100 yards of the ramps. Additionally, the county will open additional parking near county-controlled right-of-ways near the beach. All off-beach parking lots and coastal parks remain closed.
“Remember, our approach to reopening the beach and our government is much like how we closed it," Recktenwald said. "We’ll be doing it in steps and those steps are dependent on public cooperation.”
As the state is still under a stay-at-home order, people who walk onto the beach must be completed one of the approved activities, which include swimming, surfing, walking, jogging, fishing or biking.
“This is a good day," County Council Chair Ed Kelley said. "I know some of the things we’ve had to announce and some of the press releases we’ve had have been kind of concerning and bring you down, but this is a day to be happy.”
As for the spike in Volusia cases, County Interim Community Information Director Kevin Captain said these were clustered cases mainly related to the outbreak at the Tomoka Correctional Institution, a state prison in Daytona Beach, where 47 inmates contracted COVID-19.
Captain said there have been no cases at the Volusia County Branch Jail, which is under the county's jurisdiction.
In addition, Captain said that the county is working with Family Health Source to set up antibody testing at the Hester building located at the Volusia County Fairgrounds in DeLand.
Volusia County Florida Department of Health Administrator Patricia Boswell said reopening the county is a local policy decision. When it comes to looking at recovery data, Boswell listed two ways such data is recorded: when a person has had COVID-19 for more than 14 days, and using hospital discharge data.
“Neither of which completely capture recovery of the full COVID positive population,” Boswell said.
On reopening, Recktenwald said that the county will take the information given by the governor's task force and consider what it going on at the local level. However, he believes the county will follow the guidelines set by the state.
“This is a process," he said. "You might want to think of it like this: We’re in a vehicle on a hill, going down the hill, got your foot on the brake, we’re starting to let off that brake a little bit, but you don’t want to do it too fast because you don’t want to speed out of control.”
Starting Monday, April 27, the county will host a daily COVID-19 briefing at 2 p.m. Residents can watch it live on the Volusia County Emergency Management Facebook page.