COCOA BEACH, Fla. – UPDATE: Cocoa Beach Mayor Ben Malik said the city commission granted emergency powers to the city manager to help manage crowd control on the beaches during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We do not want people coming to the beach, current crowd levels are too high per the CDC guidance levels,” Malik said in an email. “Decisions will be made in the next few days to limit beach access to control the crowd size. Now is not the time to drive over to the coast, we will be updating and notifying the press as things are very fluid and we are also talking with other local beach communities.”
The Cocoa Beach City Commission will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday night to discuss what actions the city can take to deal with the novel coronavirus, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
The outbreak coincides with the start of the busy spring break season when thousands of people – from college students to large groups gathering for family reunions – cram into the city.
But while those visitors are an important economic engine for the beach town of 11,000, they also increase the risk of transmission of coronavirus in a city where a third of the residents are over 65 and where thousands more older adults spend their winter months.
“We are concerned about the large throngs of people that are not following the guidelines on social distancing,” Mayor Ben Malik said.
City officials were in the process of drawing up a draft emergency resolution Tuesday morning, he said.
Malik said the commission would discuss ways to cut down on large gatherings in the city. City-sponsored events have already been canceled and many private groups, such as the Surfside Playhouse, have also curtailed activities.
But the bars and restaurants around the downtown area remained crowded over the weekend, even if just a bit less so than normal for spring break.
That will all end soon, as Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday ordered all bars and nightclubs in the state to close for 30 days starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday and instituted reduced seating rules for restaurants.
Malik expressed concern about the economic impact on restaurants and bars during one of the busiest times of the years. Small restaurant owners and their staff typically don’t have the financial cushions needed to survive an extended shutdown or slowdown. “They can’t afford to be without a paycheck for six weeks,” he said of Cocoa Beach’s service workers.
He said he has been discussing the situation with Sen. Rick Scott’s office to push for an adequate economic response from the federal government. One concern, he had was that navigating the bureaucracy might make it too hard for small businesses to access money being made available through the Small Business Administration.
“We don’t need all this red tape; we’ve got to get rid of that," Malik said.
In order to keep the crowd in the Commission's chambers to 50 people or less, the city was in the process of setting up a remote screen in the City Hall parking lot. Malik said everybody who wanted to address the commission would have the chance to do so, but officials will ask them to leave the chamber afterward to make room for another questioner.
The city was also working on a procedure that would allow people to email questions during the meeting.
Malik cautions that coronavirus presents a challenge unlike any the city has seen before.
“This is not a hurricane,” he said. “This is a whole different drill.”