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Palm Beach County beaches will tentatively reopen on May 18 to county residents only

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Posted at 10:06 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 17:54:31-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Public and private beaches in Palm Beach County will tentatively reopen on Monday, May 18 to county residents only.

Commissioners made that decision on Friday in a 4-3 vote after hours of debate and discussion.

The county commission will meet again on May 15 to confirm their decision to reopen beaches on May 18. They can decide to move the reopening date up or delay it.

Once beaches reopen, concession stands for beach chairs and umbrellas will remain closed, as well as any food or beverage stands.

Beachgoers will be allowed to sunbathe, according to county officials.

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Back in March, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered beaches throughout Florida to close over concerns over the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, beaches in Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River counties have reopened.

Martin County leaders voted on Friday to restrict beach access to county residents only starting on Saturday.

An assistant Palm Beach County attorney said that kind of restriction could cause legal problems.

"There would be legal implications with trying to restrict beach access just to Palm Beach County residents, primarily because there still exists the freedom of travel for people who aren't Palm Beach County residents. There would be that concern," said Masimba Mutamba with the Palm Beach County Attorney's Office.

At Friday's meeting, County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office weighed in on plans to reopen beaches and said the fewer restrictions there are on what people can bring to the beach and what activities they can do, the better.

In addition, Baker said that when beaches reopen, individual cities can put their own restrictions in place.

State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees told commissioners on Friday that Duval County beaches in North Florida reopened three weeks ago and they have not seen an uptick in coronavirus cases.

"Being outdoors where you have wind flow, higher humidity, sunlight, this actually will have an effect, in terms of transmission of the virus, versus indoors where there's not as much ventilation," said Rivkees.

Lake Worth Beach City Commissioner Omari Hardy disagreed with reopening the beaches, saying Palm Beach County is different from Duval County and what they've experienced from COVID-19.

"I think that opening up the beaches right now is a risky thing to do, and I don't see the tremendous benefit" said Hardy. "It could work out well, or not. We need to think about what the 'or not' scenario looks like."

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On Thursday, Boca Raton City Councilmember Andy Thomson told WPTV the city has to be careful with its approach to allowing people back onto the beaches.

"Given our proximity to Broward and in particular Dade, too, given how nice our beaches, are we have to be very careful we don't get inundated by a surge of people wanting to go out and enjoy the beach," Thomson said.

Thomson believes the city can regulate the number of people on the beaches by limiting parking spaces.

"Spanish River Park and Red Reef Park, where that is the vast majority of parking for people who are going to go use those beaches. And the plan, I think, is for us to have those parking facilities in those parks closed. And that will, I think, will be able to minimize the number of people," Thomson said.

Just north in Delray Beach, leaders met on Thursday and decided that when beaches reopen, the city will limit activities to walking, jogging, and swimming.

Parking spaces along A1A will reopen, but parking lots will only be open to residents with a city beach sticker on their cars.

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According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 3,615 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County, including 229 deaths.