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Pinellas Commissioners To Consider Easing Beach Restrictions

A screenshot of multiple pinellas commissioners sitting in their home or offices while on a zoom video conference.
Screenshot of Pinellas County Commission emergency Zoom meeting
Pinellas County commissioners Monday unanimously passed a resolution to extend the local state of emergency until 3 p.m. on Friday, April 17.

Pinellas County commissioners will discuss the possibility of easing beach restrictions during a meeting on Thursday.

The subject came up at a Monday meeting where commissioners extended a local state of emergency until Friday. That order includes the continued closure of public beaches and beach parking areas.

But during the public comment portion of the county's zoom meeting, residents voiced concerns about beach closures.

Axl David of Clearwater called the restrictions an "emotional overreaction" by the board and said residents are capable of social distancing with proper law enforcement.

“Many people in the early phases of this pandemic - primarily spring break crowds - did not take precautions seriously,” David said. “That all changed once the public had a clear picture of the severity and impact as evidenced in a helicopter footage from (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office), beachgoers began to self-police and maintain proper distance.”

“It's extremely unhealthy, both mentally and physically, to put citizens on an indefinite house arrest with extremely limited opportunities for fresh air or sunlight.”

Pinellas County commissioners said they wanted to talk with Sheriff Bob Gualtieri about the prospect of easing beach restrictions before Thursday’s meeting.

Gualtieri did not support the earlier beach closures. His deputies would have to enforce social distancing if the restrictions were eased.

“I just want to make sure that we do this in a very strategic and planned out way,” said Commissioner Kenneth Welch.

“The sheriff mentioned this morning that he's already seen an uptick on the beaches.”

RELATED: Map: Coronavirus Cases In Florida, And In Your Area

Ideas briefly discussed included opening the beaches for walking or running, but keeping areas where people can congregate closed.

Since Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay at home order on April 1, residents have been asked to only leave their homes for essential services. But outdoor exercise has been considered essential under the governor’s order - as long as people practice proper social distancing.

Florida’s coronavirus cases have continued to increase at a rapid rate, with the peak expected towards the end of April or early May.

Commissioners will also review which businesses and services are considered essential or non-essential, like dog groomers.

RELATED: Pinellas Officials Close Non-Essential Businesses Amid Stay-At-Home Confusion 

The commission received comments on both sides of the fence from business owners, dog groomers, and dog owners about why the county should not have classified this service as non-essential.

One business owner on the public meeting through Zoom said many breeds can be physically harmed from irregular grooming that causes matted fur, hotspots, and curled toenails.

A dog groomer emailed commissioners to say she fears for her health and safety working and hopes they continue to keep these businesses closed. 

“Before we at least get together on Thursday, maybe do a little bit more research on that,” said Commissioner Dave Eggers. “I think we continue to carve out little areas for each county to be a little unique and different.”

“How do we start to ease restrictions or how do we start to amend the things that we've done so that we can carve out how it fits in our county?”

The Board of County Commissioners’ next virtual meeting is Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

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I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.