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Beaches to remain closed until April 9

Tim Croft
tcroft@starfl.com

The Board of County Commissioners on Thursday extended a standing beach closure until April 9, the Thursday prior to Good Friday.

Re-convening its March 18 emergency meeting called due to the coronavirus, the BOCC adopted the date to align with recent decisions in Panama City and Panama City Beach.

In addition to extending the emergency declaration to close the beaches, which commissioners noted they could amend as circumstances warrant, the board also approved a resolution.

That resolution stated that the board, taking into account the “protection and well-being” of residents, reiterated the rationale behind closing beaches “until safe.”

The resolution, passed unanimously, also urged visitors considering coming to the area to stay home and said visitors must “self-quarantine” by CDC guidelines if traveling from areas of outbreak clusters cited by the CDC, the resolution including visitors from Alabama, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Louisiana.

Commissioner Ward McDaniel noted the “small, rural community” had more than 20 percent of its population in the high-risk population of those over 65.

The medical infrastructure in this community, he added, was restricted; there are not intensive care beds in the county and Ascension Sacred Heart had two ventilators, McCroan said.

“We are just trying to get through this,” McDaniel said. “If we buckle down together we can get through this.”

Health department officials were on-hand to emphasize messages about hand-washing and social distancing, adding that they are testing but based on state protocols.

The target is that at-risk population.

Testing is not designed for those who do not have symptoms, she said.

“People need to be taking this seriously,” said Sarah Hinds, Administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Gulf and Franklin Counties.

Both counties have yet to see a positive case, but testing has slightly increased in recent days.

Commissioners also discussed the flood of communication they had received, 90 percent supporting beach closure, they said.

The other 10 percent, however, have applied some “bumps and bruises,” McDaniel said.

Commissioners Sandy Quinn, Jr. and Phil McCroan were particularly agitated about those they said were putting dollars and convenience above lives, including a traveler from Tennessee put out by his daughter’s inability to fish from the beach.

“Our priority first and foremost has to be the protection of the citizens of this county; that is just a fact,” McCroan said. “We can’t control what is happening in the rest of the country, but we can control what is going on in Gulf County.”

Quinn said he would not budge on beach closure until the threat of COVID-19 is gone.

Commissioners also approved approaching Mexico Beach about the interlocal agreement regarding EMS services as long as the city’s beaches remain the only Panhandle beach from Escambia to Wakulla that remained open.

“We are putting our employees at risk, we are our putting all our people at risk,” said Administrator Michael Hammond.