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State parks limit hours of operation in wake of coronavirus outbreak

Campgrounds to close starting Friday

3. St. George Island State Park (Florida panhandle)
3. St. George Island State Park (Florida panhandle)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida parks will open during set daytime hours for the next two months, with campground and overnight accommodations closed completely starting Friday, the Department of Environmental Protection announced Tuesday.

The action concerning the parks comes as state officials respond to the rapidly increasing number of coronavirus cases in Florida.

The state park system will honor existing camping reservations that begin on March 18, but individuals that made those plans must arrive prior to 5 p.m. Wednesday, officials said. After Wednesday, existing reservations will be canceled and refunded, the state agency said in a release.

State parks had been operating during daylight hours, but the change announced Tuesday limits sets visitation between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The Department of Environmental Protection is also canceling “all events, activities, special event reservations, pavilion rentals and overnight reservations” for the next 60 days. “All staff are fully informed and utilizing the protocol urged by the CDC and Florida Department of Health,” DEP officials said in a Tuesday press release.

The state agency also is closing three Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection facilities --- Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. No timeline was given for the facilities to reopen.

The changes are in accord with guidance from the CDC “to avoid the gathering of large groups of people,” the press release said.