ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. — Some of the only beaches that remain open on the First Coast are in St. Johns County.

Monday, the county government shut down the parking lots and parking spaces for the beaches.

The goal was to reduce the number of people on the sand, and it seems to have worked. 

Elida Reyes was visiting St. Augustine Beach from Indianapolis. She was at this same beach near the pier over the weekend. 

"Yesterday compared to today," she said, "it’s a huge difference!  There are a lot less people."

St. Augustine Beach Police Chief Robert Hardwick noticed a difference in the crowds too.

"By far. I’d say we cut down in half from Saturday to Sunday and we’ve cut down in half from Sunday to Monday, if not more," he said. 

While some Florida counties and cities have chosen to close their beaches to contain the spread of the coronavirus, St. Johns County has chosen to keep its beaches open.

St. Johns County Spokesman Michael Ryan said, "We want our residents to be able to go and find a place outside that has clean air, fresh air, while still respecting the guidelines of the CDC, about maintaining the 6-foot space."

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Chief Hardwick pointed to the beach by the pier, often one of the busiest parts of St. Augustine Beach, and said, "If you look at this beach, we have groups of 2 or 3.They’re 50-60 feet apart, if not more. Are there certain areas where there are 10 and under?  Absolutely. You have families sitting side by side maybe 10 to 15 feet away. So this is how we want it."

Police and deputies are monitoring the folks on the beaches in St. Johns County, which includes St. Augustine Beach.

"The (people) are doing the right thing. They’re not partying like in South Florida," Hardwick said. 

While shutting down the parking lots has reduced the number of people on the beaches, it has also obviously cut down on the number of people in the parking lot. The lots were packed last week and over the weekend, with people sometimes close together.

"Yesterday we couldn’t find a spot," Reyes said.

Nearby businesses have also closed off their parking lots.  Chief Hardwick said he has not heard of or seen people parking in neighborhoods. 

Reyes and the other beach-goers who found a way to reach the beach without needing parking spaces say they feel safe on the sand because people are keeping their distance from each other.

"I just feel like there are more people not practicing social distancing inside of the stores, whereas here on the beach, there’s more police enforcement and there’s signs everywhere encouraging that," Reyes said.   

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