Along the Coast: County takes a step to reopen beaches; restaurant rules are eased

A Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy tells beach-goers in South Palm Beach of restricted beach access on March 21. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Mary Hladky

Palm Beach County commissioners, by a 4-3 margin, voted to reopen the county's beaches to county residents on May 18.

The May 8 decision is preliminary, with the commission agreeing to meet again on May 15 to finalize the plan for beach openings.

While it is possible commissioners could change their minds, that seemed unlikely after they negotiated among themselves to craft an order that a majority could accept.

Both public and private beaches would be allowed to reopen from sunrise to sunset. Beach-goers will have to abide by social distancing guidelines and gatherings would be limited to 10 people. Concession facilities will not be open.

But only Palm Beach County residents will be able to use them, as commissioners attempted to ward off an influx of beach-goers from Broward and Miami-Dade counties where beaches remain closed.

County and municipal law enforcement officers will enforce the order. Cities and towns, however, have the authority to decide they do not want to reopen.

The action marks the second step to ease the lockdown that has kept county residents largely confined to their homes because of COVID-19. The county reopened parks, golf courses and marinas on April 30.

Separately, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in West Palm Beach that restaurants and some nonessential retail businesses can reopen May 11 with those in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to follow on May 18. Restaurants can offer outdoor seating with 6 feet of social distancing and indoor seating at 25% capacity.

Palm Beach County had asked DeSantis to lift the restrictions as he already had for 64 of Florida's 67 counties. But the governor placed greater restrictions on Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties because the three have more than half of the state's coronavirus cases.

County commissioners took the action on reopening beaches even though health director Dr. Alina Alonso had recommended against it. She warned earlier this week that reopening too soon risks a resurgence of the disease.

“Our own health department is telling us not to do it,” said Commissioner Gregg Weiss, who along with Mack Bernard and Mary Lou Berger voted against the reopening.

County Mayor Dave Kerner cast the deciding vote. “My intent is I want people to go to the beach,” he said.

Commissioner Robert Weinroth, who represents the coastal South County, was the strongest proponent of beach reopening.

“It is the right time,” he said. “There is no reason our residents can’t act responsibly.”

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Comment by Hobart Gapp on May 13, 2020 at 9:28pm

If we keep the beaches closed, keep the restaurants closed, don’t let people get haircuts or go to the movies, the economy can’t recover. If the economy doesn’t recover, the opposition party is hoping they can win the White House...probably the Senate too. It really isn’t hard to understand is it?  I think my three year old can see what’s happening here. 

Comment by Rodrigo Griesi on May 8, 2020 at 2:40pm

thanks for sharing the news!

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