FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – After nearly a month, Flagler County beaches reopened to the public Wednesday during limited hours -- but not for socializing, county officials said.
“We’re trying right now, open up and be cautious about it," Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins said.
The county was the first to announce beach access restrictions of Central Florida’s three coastal counties amid the coronavirus outbreak. County beaches, piers and parks have been closed since March 23. Last week, the county reopened access to some parks and trails.
As much of Central Florida shuttered to prevent the spread of the illness, Brevard County beaches remained open with heightened restrictions and Volusia County officials are allowing residents to once again visit area beaches but only for certain exercise-related activities.
“There’s a lot of people that worry about the influx of people from out of town and somebody bringing in COVID-19 and it starting to spread around,” Mullins said.
On Monday, Flagler County officials issued an emergency order to reopen county beaches on a limited basis to allow residents physical and mental health activities. In a news release, county officials described the opening as temporary and said how long the beaches remain open demand on public compliance with new rules.
Flagler County beaches will open on Wed. 4/22 for fishing, surfing & recreation only. All beaches open from 7am-10am. Beaches north of Flagler Beach re-open 6pm-8pm. Flagler Beach remains closed after 10am. Boardwalks, pier & beach parking areas remain closed. #FCSO pic.twitter.com/LFxMxwtLhe— FlaglerSheriff (@FlaglerSheriff) April 21, 2020
“Our residents have been very compliant with the trails at our parks, and that makes us very confident that this limited beach opening will be successful,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron said in a statement. “The degree to which we can expand the hours is dependent on how the public responds to this initial re-opening.”
Beachgoers will still need to maintain social distancing, 6 feet apart from strangers, and beach access will be for physical and mental health activities, including walking, biking, surfing, fishing, but officials stressed social congregating is not permitted.
“Our citizens have been very cooperative, they’ve done what they’re supposed to and it’s time to reward them. It’s time to let them get back out and enjoy some of the freedoms that were taken away,” Mullins said.
Anglers will be allowed to carry a small cooler or container for bait and tackle use, according to the news release.
Eighteen miles of beaches will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. County beachfront parts and parking lots will remain closed.
“This is a test to see how it goes in a public area. We need to get our businesses back open. Our businesses are suffering. They can’t be on life support much longer. I think if we see a good weekend with it, that we’ll revisit it early next week,” Mullins said.
The areas open during these times include Flagler County’s 6-mile beachfront. Access to the beach will be allowed from 3rd Street North to the northern city limits, and, from 9th Street South to the southern city limits. The dune walkovers on the Boardwalk will remain closed. Fishing on the beach and dog walking will only be permitted north of 10th Street North and south of 10th Street South.
The unincorporated areas of the beach, including of Beverly Beach and Marineland, will also be open during the limited hours.
“I think they should be open all the time because I think it’ll spread the people out. Instead from seven to nine or whatever, you’re going to have clumps of people. A lot more people trying to hurry up and get out there,” resident Henry Wisliceny said.
Out of the 10 Central Florida counties, Flagler has the lowest number of coronavirus cases, according to the Florida Department of Health database.
As of Tuesday, Flagler County has had 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of March, including two deaths.
The county has one drive-up coronavirus testing site.