Pinellas beaches will remain open for Fourth of July

Despite some residents asking that the county’s beaches be closed over the Fourth of July weekend, county commissioners decided not to make that call. They asked that local law enforcement step up its presence. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he has no plans to do the same type of enforcement that occurred for Memorial Day.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously June 30 to extend the local state of emergency through July 10.

They also decided the beaches would remain open for the Fourth of July weekend, despite some residents calling for them to be closed. Law enforcement will step up its presence, but there will not be enforcement like what occurred on Memorial Day.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is more concerned about activities that might occur at indoor places than those planned in outdoor locations and on the beach.

Commissioners discussed the rising numbers of COVID-19 in the county. Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of Department of Health in Pinellas, said the county had averaged 350 new cases for the past seven days. As of Tuesday morning, 308 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Pinellas with 75 in ICU.

None of the commissioners supported closing the beaches, although they did ask that law enforcement try to keep large gatherings from occurring.

County Administrator Barry Burton said the problem with people intermingling in large groups was less risky outdoors than when indoors. He said local hotels were having problems getting people to spread out as were restaurants.

Gualtieri said if the beaches were closed, people would just go elsewhere, such as the pool decks at local hotels where occupancy is much higher compared to Memorial Day. He said two days wasn’t enough time to implement a big enforcement detail. He also said if law enforcement tried to do more, there would likely be a “big push back from the public.”

He said it was time for personal responsibility.

He remains concerned about bars and restaurants, especially places with dance floors, and those that remain defiant about allowing too many people inside.

He said his deputies were doing the best they could with enforcement.

He believes it is time for restaurants and bars to show community responsibility and not let as many people in the door.

“They’re the ones causing the problem,” he said.

He said some hotels were having problems with people not wearing masks in the lobby.

“Don’t check them in,” he said. “This is going to be around for months and months. … Businesses need to step up and fix it.”

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.