CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. - While some Florida counties taped off their sandy shores to the public for the holiday weekend, that's not the case in the Tampa Bay region.
From Fort Island Gulf Beach in Citrus County to Venice Beach in Sarasota County, local leaders didn't follow the path of South Florida counties and beachgoers showed their appreciation by packing the sand Friday afternoon and evening.
With public July 4th celebrations few and far between, people are celebrating the holiday weekend on their own, or at least they’re being socially distant. There were plenty of people on Clearwater Beach Friday they seemed to be staying in their own groups and following guidelines.
The view from cameras perched on top of nearby hotels may have made it look like there wasn't room to walk between one person and the next, but walking along the sand, it was clear that six feet meant six feet.
“Most people are being pretty cautious. I saw someone make a seaweed ring around their stuff, so for the most part, yeah,” one beachgoer told FOX 13 News Friday.
Masks weren't an uncommon sight, either.
Helena Fuentes, of Clermont, said Friday was the first time she's ventured out in months, but she couldn't ignore the calls of a holiday weekend.
"I hope that it gives people a little break from what’s going on, but at the same time people will take it seriously and have fun safely,” she said.
Leading up to the weekend, the Pinellas County sheriff said he thought beachgoers would be responsible. His concern, instead, was going to be indoor places where people might gather to celebrate.
Bars are closed, but restaurants that serve alcohol are not and the ones along the beach that have outdoor seating were busy Friday.
The feeling at the Clear Sky Beachside Cafe was festive. They expanded seating to the sidewalk to accommodate more people.
“Most people are prepared and coming in with masks already," Clear Sky employee Jason Elliott said. "It has been going pretty well. We have not had too many issues with people not feeling comfortable.”
It's a much different scene than beaches in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Monroe and Martin counties, which announced beaches were closing before July 4 and will reopen after the weekend. Days ago, officials in those areas made the announcement due to the record-breaking spikes in coronavirus cases within Florida.
State leaders have acknowledged that the increase has mostly been driven by younger people and by bar owners who allow a mass-gathering situation indoors.
Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis suspended alcohol consumption at bars across the state. However, businesses licensed as restaurants can operate and serve alcohol.
“As we continue to see more COVID-19 positive test results among young adults and rising hospitalizations, I have decided that the only prudent thing to do to tamp down this recent uptick is to crack down on recreational activities that put our overall community at higher risk,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement to WSVN.
In addition, Miami-Dade announced Thursday the return of a curfew until further notice.
Locally, Longboat Key has closed beach parking and instituted an indoor/outdoor mask order, but the beaches themselves remain open.
Meanwhile in Pinellas County, leaders made it clear they were against closing its beaches. Instead, they are asking for beachgoers to be responsible and follow social distancing guidelines.
Those heading to a Pinellas County's sugar-sand coast this weekend won't see hundreds of law enforcement officials when beaches reopened after lockdowns.
During Tuesday's county commission meeting, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the "Herculean effort" to use 300 officers when beaches reopened is not a sustainable method to do again.
He pointed out that the mass gathering problem does not fall on those who are enjoying the beach. Instead, he noted the persistent problem was occurred within the indoor spaces where business owners have been defiant and allowed their facilities to operate above capacity.
"There are some places that are playing games that we saw over the weekend," the sheriff explained. "You had places trying to call themselves restaurants. You had places that were trying to put food on the table but they don't really sell food."
The sheriff said his deputies will continue to target the businesses where those mass gatherings can occur.
Officials want to remind beachgoers to pack their patience when heading to the beaches. It is expected to be busy for the holiday weekend.