PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Though 42 miles of beaches in St. Johns County remained open Sunday, county officials are taking steps to minimize crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday evening, county officials announced that all public beach parking lots will close Monday morning in response to the local state of emergency, and they will remain closed until further notice.
County administrator Hunter Conrad said that decision was based on near-record attendance at the beach over the weekend, as well as discussions with local law enforcement officials.
“Our goal is to allow the beaches to remain as accessible as possible to our residents, while still observing CDC guidelines and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of our community," Conrad said.
The parking lot outside of Mickler’s Landing was packed Sunday morning, to the point where cars were also parked on the side of Ponte Vedra Boulevard. The beach itself was just as lively.
County resident David Godwin, who lives near Mickler’s, said he believes the beaches should remain open, but he thinks shutting down the parking lots will help with crowd control.
“I think it’s good to close the parking lot,” Godwin told News4Jax. “It keeps the non-locals out and it actually keeps the people out on the beach thinned out.”
Beachgoer Bryce Jenkins said he understands that people living in the area want to go to the beach, but he believes closing the parking lots is a smart decision.
“We all need to be at home, off the streets, helping all the people... who can’t be at home and should be at home,” Jenkins said. “If they’re out in hospitals and pharmacies and grocery stores, they can’t quarantine so it’s very important that everyone who can stays at home so that we prevent the spread of a pandemic.”
Susan McCaw, who lives in St. Johns County, said she is thrilled the beaches there are still open.
“Hopefully, they will practice social distancing so we can keep St. Johns County beaches open,” McCaw said. “I am just staying my distance. I feel like you take all the precautions, you should be fine.”
Jacksonville resident Dan Goodman was protesting the closures of beaches in Duval and Nassau counties.
“I do teach biology," Goodman said. "It doesn’t make sense to me, biologically. If someone can explain it to me, why the beach should be closed, but I think it is counterproductive. I think it is going to make an already tense situation worse. "
“If you’re going to close a beach, you have to close them all,” said Eddie Lively of Ponte Vedra Beach.
“If one town over, you’re going to have one open beach and one closed beach, you’re going to get a large population that is going to move down there -- kind of counteract the whole reason for closing this beach. It doesn’t make any sense,” added Jacksonville resident Jack Glazer.
St. Johns County resident Dr. Melinda Greenfield is a local dermatologist.
“I feel like by making a statement and shutting my practice down I am preaching. I am doing what I am preaching -- stay home, do not come in. It’s not even OK to come in and get your skin cancer cut off. If it’s not OK to come in and get your skin cancer cut off, it’s not ok to congregate anywhere,” Greenfield said.
She said she would like to see all Florida beaches closed.
“If the virus didn’t thrive in warm climates, it would be dead in Florida. It would be dead in the other hemisphere where it is coming off their summer,” she said.
Duval County’s beaches have been closed since 5 p.m. Friday. The City of Fernandina Beach closed its beaches at 5 p.m. Saturday until further notice. The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office said the county’s beaches closed at 6 a.m. Sunday. Flagler County said it will close its beaches by emergency order, effective at 6 a.m. Monday.