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Pinellas County to consider reopening parts of beaches for exercise during pandemic

The county commissioners said they want more information for a meeting Thursday to consider opening parts of the beaches to exercise.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County beaches have been closed for weeks as a measure to stop the spread of coronavirus.

But on Monday, commissioners said they would consider reopening parts of the beaches and private pools at condominiums for exercise and recreation.

Commissioners talked virtually during an emergency meeting to vote on extending the local emergency order and to discuss the area's ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Most of the county commissioners agreed on considering reopening parts of the county's 35 miles of beaches but wanted more information ahead of a Thursday meeting before making a decision. They also agreed about hearing from Sheriff Bob Gualtieri first.

The commission voted to close county beaches in March after viral videos showed beaches packed with spring breakers as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading around the U.S. At the same time, Gualtieri said spring break crowds were dropping and people were still maintaining social distancing practices.

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During Monday's meeting, commissioners heard input from county resident Axl David, who called the beach closure an "emotional overreaction by this board." David said beachgoers had been self-policing when it comes to social distancing and that it was "extremely unhealthy...to put citizens on indefinite house arrest."

Both commissioners Kathleen Peters and Dave Eggers stated the board should consider reopening parts of the beaches for exercising and walking. Eggers said the main things that need to be looked at during this consideration is parking and people congregating.

"Citizens in Pinellas County are being responsible," Peters said. "There is police presence on the beaches all the time. I honestly believe people will be responsible."

Eggers said the board could consider a way to make the waterfront available to walkers and joggers, but people would "not be allowed to congregate" like how beaches are normally used.

Commissioner Janet Long said the board should hear more from Gualtieri before considering reopening beaches. 

"(We) want to make sure we have a plan and don't rush to draw down restrictions," Commissioner Ken Welch said.

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