'Consider alternate plans:' Pinellas sheriff braces for max-capacity beaches this Memorial Day

Indian Rocks Beach was quiet before sunrise Friday ahead of Memorial Day weekend, but Pinellas County officials are bracing for the possibility of large crowds at its beaches amid continuing concerns over the spread of COVID-19. 

In an announcement Thursday, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri warned beachgoers about traffic surges and beaches closing even earlier than in past weekends due to holiday crowds, even suggesting visitors skip the beach altogether and consider alternate plans.

The holiday is considered to be a critical test for the county’s online Beach Capacity Dashboard. The website is an online tool that uses a red-light,-green-light system to update users on capacity at beaches, beach parking lots and bridges throughout the county. 

The dashboard will go live Friday at 1 p.m., and will be available through Monday, May 25.

READ: Know before you go: Pinellas sheriff launches online tracking tool for crowded beaches

There are areas of concern as Pinellas County officials look ahead to Memorial Day weekend. The following areas quickly filled up on the first Saturday after beaches reopened: Fred Howard Park, Dunedin Causeway, Clearwater Beach, Sunset Beach, Treasure Island, St. Pete Beach, Pass-A-Grille, and Fort De Soto. 

Visitors are advised to plan ahead and check here before leaving home so you can plan ahead. If an area is open, you'll see a green indicator. If it's reaching capacity you'll see yellow, and if it's closed you'll see red. 

When it comes to Memorial Day weekend, the sheriff and County Administrator Barry Burton said communication with hotels will be key in terms of providing social distancing information and tools, like the dashboard, for guests who will head to the beach.

When a beach reaches capacity, no additional visitors will be permitted. The sheriff says the beach capacity dashboard has proven very successful, reaching 166,000 web hits over Mother’s Day weekend- a number likely to be far exceeded over Memorial Day weekend. 

Sheriff Gualtieri will hold a news briefing Friday afternoon to provide information on the beach capacity dashboard and Memorial Day weekend.