CLEARWATER, Fla. - Clearwater officials decided the city will wait until next week to follow other beach cities in the decision to close the sand -- in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During an emergency meeting of city councilmembers Wednesday, a local state of emergency was declared, and after much back-and-forth between councilmembers, the decision was made to wait until 6 a.m. Monday, March 23 to close Clearwater Beach.
The closure will last two weeks and does not impact other beaches in Pinellas County. Beaches to close Monday include Clearwater Beach, North Clearwater Beach, and Sand Key Beach.
The decision comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday groups of people should be limited to no more than 10. The governor said the social distancing measures should include beaches.
Closing the beaches is a tall order considering spring break is in full swing and the weather is ideal. Over the last few days, Clearwater Beach has remained bustling.
Business owners made their voices heard during the emergency council meeting, emphasizing the economic impact closing the beaches would have.
But the pressure on the city to close the beaches rose after videos and photos showing crowds of spring breakers went viral, prompting continued criticism from social media users.
Councilmembers, too, seemed mostly concerned about the economic impact of closing beaches in the middle of what's typically the busiest time of year for Pinellas County's beach businesses.
The mayor made his preference to close the beaches clear, saying, "we're closing libraries, we're closing rec centers. Why aren't we closing the beaches?"
Last week, city officials took steps to control the crowds at the beach by canceling the annual Sugar Sand Festival and closing Pier 60. At the time, Pinellas County decided it would not intervene when it came to closing beaches, but urged everyone to practice social distancing.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri later said hotel owners and others who operate properties along the beach "asked us not to shut down the beaches because it affects, like, livelihood, and it affects their businesses."
Clearwater Beach has been packed all week. Here's how it looked on Monday, March 16, 2020.
The sheriff reaffirmed the county's position to leave beach closures up to individual cities Wednesday.
"After much consideration and deliberation, Pinellas County has decided to not close our beaches. However, we need your help. CDC guidelines include limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people and maintaining a distance of 6 feet from other parties. I ask that you strictly adhere to the social distancing requirements to keep our community, including our beaches, as safe and enjoyable as possible," the sheriff wrote on Facebook.
Over the weekend, cities of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale announced they were closing their beaches to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know
AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com
Map of known COVID-19 cases:
MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map