After thousands flock to St. Johns County beaches, officials decide to shut them down

The beaches will close starting March 29 at 6 a.m. and remain closed until further notice.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Closed parking didn’t stop thousands of people from coming to St. Johns County beaches on Saturday.

And after watching crowds gather and ignore social distancing recommendations meant to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, county officials made the decision to close the beaches to public access starting Sunday morning.

“We have taken as many measures as possible up to this point to preserve our residents’ ability to access their beach. Unfortunately, those visiting the beach continue to ignore CDC guidelines regarding crowd size and personal distancing. In order to maintain public safety and respect the State of Florida’s Executive Order, we had no choice but to close the coastline to public access today,” Hunter S. Conrad, St. Johns County Administrator, said in a statement. “We will continue to be methodical in our approach to closings related to COVID-19, and like every decision we have made to this point, we will open the beaches at the appropriate time when it is safe to do so.”

The beaches will close starting March 29 at 6 a.m. and remain closed until further notice.

According to the latest numbers released Saturday morning, there are 48 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in St. Johns County. On Friday, the Florida Health Department confirmed the death of a 67-year-old man, the second death from COVID-19 in the county.

When asked earlier on Saturday if any changes were coming, St. Johns County Communications Director Michael Ryan said the county would continue to monitor the situation. The decision to close the beaches was announced just after 6 p.m.

The decision to close all public beaches is based on a recommendation to reduce health risks associated with COVID-19 and beach overcrowding by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Augustine Beach Police Department, the City of St. Augustine, the City of St. Augustine Beach, St. Johns County Emergency Management, and local health officials.

All boat ramps, parks, green spaces, and trails remain open for the public. For more information, residents can call the St. Johns County Emergency Management hotline at 904-824-5550.

Mayor Lenny Curry last week announced that all beaches in Duval County would close March 20.

“If you’re on the beaches after 5 p.m., it will be considered trespassing,” Curry said. “Police and lifeguards are patrolling the beaches to make sure citizens are in compliance.”

The Duval County beaches will also remain closed until further notice.

Curry’s decision came hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered beaches and gathering spots closed in two South Florida counties.

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