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St. Johns County commissioners choose to keep beaches closed following meeting discussing re-opening

One commissioner said it would be counterproductive to open St. Johns County's beaches while trying to flatten the curve.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Beaches remain closed in St. Johns County after a special meeting was held Tuesday in which county commissioners discussed the possibility of re-opening them.

The county closed beaches March 29, and commissioners on April 7 chose to keep them closed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Eric Hires of St. Augustine Beach created an online petition, asking for St. Johns County beaches to reopen only to "residents with valid ID, from dawn to 11 a.m. And again from 5 p.m. until dark." The idea is to allow "surfers, walkers and fishermen to engage with the ocean.” 

"We wanted to find a middle ground where people could still use the beach in a safe and responsible way," Hires told First Coast News. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 11,000 people had signed that petition.

However, county commissioners felt it was too early to reopen the beaches to the public.

St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean told First Coast News`, "I think it would be counterproductive for this county to open our beaches during the same week that Dr. Anthony Fauci is begging us, urging us to stay at home."  

"If this is so severe, that our beaches need to be closed, I just think it should be across the board. The golf courses should be closed." Hires said. "I would love to see some consistency across the board."

Hines and others say people can carry out social distancing on the beach.

"It’s an easy place to do it," Hires said. "It’s much easier to give someone six feet on the beach than on the sidewalk."

Dean said, "It is possible for individuals to distance themselves on the beach. I accept that premise, but the question is, will they?"

Dean said the walkways to the beach are the tricky spots.

"You can distance yourself on a wide beach, but it’s hard to distance yourself on a narrow path or dune walkover trying to access the beach," Dean commented.   

The commission plans to meet every week now to discuss the status of COVID-19 in St. Johns County. It’s expected commissioners will also discuss the beaches as well.