ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — Overall, travel is expected to be way down this Memorial Day weekend because of the coronavirus, but some parts of the Tampa Bay area will be packed.
And that, of course, includes the beaches.
“It’s going to be one of those crazy beach weekends,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
The sheriff says his department is ramping up, getting ready for what’s expected to be a very busy Memorial Day weekend.
“There are some places that are going to get full to capacity and we’re not going to be able to redirect people to open space,” he said.
On Friday, the sheriff’s office reactivated its online dashboard, which provides hourly updates to let people know which beaches are open, nearing capacity, or closed off to ensure social distancing guidelines.
The sheriff knows the next few days could be a challenge.
“Look at that dashboard,” he urged visitors. “And, if you haven’t checked it and you don’t come early, don’t be surprised if you get turned away.”
But, other parts of town are expected fewer people than in years past.
AAA didn’t even bother issuing its traditional Memorial Day travel forecast for the first time in 20 years, but there are clear signs things are starting to pick back up.
“We’ve been watching traffic online, and there’s a lot of optimism out there among travelers who are booking trips in the summertime, in the fall, and then even into next year and the year after,” AAA Spokesman Mark Jenkins said.
That’s good news for the economy, but maybe not for crowd control.
Beyond this Memorial Day weekend, Gualtieri said it’s time to take the training wheels off. Those 300 deputies he’s had out there enforcing the rules will likely be gone or reduced. He urged people to continue following the rules.
“We don’t want to see the results in a week or two weeks where, all of a sudden, you’ve got this big spike, and then somebody comes back and says whoops with start closing stuff back down again,” Gualtieri said.
“I don’t know how people are going to be if they don’t have someone maintaining that type of thing,” beach visitor Sue Scotti said.
James Dean agreed while visiting Gandy Beach on Friday.
“I think they’re going to pack in once there’s no presence,” he said.
One thing that might help with the beach crowd is that a lot of other options and venues have re-opened now, including restaurants, waterfront gathering spots, museums, zoos and aquariums.
But, keep in mind that many locations are operating at reduced capacity, and some may even require reservations. So, it’s a good idea to check ahead.
“There’s nothing worse than packing the kids in the family up into the car, driving 30 or 45 minutes away just to get to a place and not be able to get in,” Jenkins said.
“Very disappointing for everyone.”
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