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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2020 10 months ago

Volusia County waiting on governor's order to begin a phased reopening

What is likely to reopen first? Volusia County staff spoke about the beach.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

With the statewide stay-at-home order due to COVID-19 set to expire on Thursday, April 30, Volusia County will follow the governor's lead on reopening businesses and services.

Deputy County Manager Suzanne Konchan said that, while coronavirus cases are beginning to decline in Volusia, staff is considering the event to still be ongoing and reopening efforts will be phased across all estimated 40 county divisions. 

Notably, that includes reopening the beaches to all activities, which Konchan said the county is ready to do so as soon as it is in accordance with Gov. Ron DeSantis' order. Konchan acknowledged that the beaches have been a "very focused and highlighted" element of the county's plan to reopen, and said the county has a shipment of utility posts on the way; these posts will act as temporary markers to maintain social distancing for cars parked on the beach. 

The county is also considering putting in place a social distancing recommendation of over 6 feet when beaches reopen. 

“As the tides the change as the beach, the capacity for people to spread out will ebb and flow because of the width of our beach," Konchan said. 

The temporary markers will be spaced between every conservation pole on the beach (which are already spaced in 50-foot increments) to mark the halfway point of 25 feet. Cars will then be advised to park in the center of the areas marked by the poles. 

Other county departments will see a similar approach based on the service they provide, Konchan said. For example, library buildings will likely reopen partially in May to allow residents to use computers by appointment. 

Konchan spoke about the county's plan to reopen about an hour after Beach Safety Director Ray Manchester informed the council that about 1,200 warnings were issued on Sunday, April 26, to people disregarding the rules about using the beach. Manchester said that the favorable weather brought a lot of groups and families to the beach, as well as an increase of hotel guests. People want to sunbathe or sit and read a book, he explained. 

Still, only six citations have been issued. 

“The compliance is very good but the message is not very popular,” Manchester said.

Another obstacle Beach Safety faces is that many are participating in what Manchester coined as "lack of compliance by deception" — people are only pretending to be exercising when they see Beach Safety approaching.

A lot of the lifeguards are also teenagers, and they have trouble enforcing the regulations, Manchester added. People ignore them and the lifeguards have to call Beach Safety officers over to get people to comply. 

County Council Chair Ed Kelley said the county's message could be "cleared up" if they allowed sunbathing and sitting on the beach. For example, if a person wants to go fishing on the beach and their spouse wants to accompany them, they should be able to sit in a chair. 

“I think the sooner that we can relax, to a degree, enforce the social distancing, the less of these kinds of issues we’re going to have," he said.

County Councilman Ben Johnson said Volusia has been "attacked" for both reopening the beaches and closing them. 

“And the people who are going to the beach better realize when they do not adhere to the rules, they’re making their own case for not opening the beach again if this picks back up again," he said.

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