ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. – St. Johns County beaches reopened at 6 a.m. on Saturday, but only until noon and only for physical activity. The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners made the decision to reopen its beaches from 6 a.m. to noon, seven days a week for limited activities.
Some people were parked waiting for Mickler’s Landing to open before its 6 a.m. reopening. After one hour of the gates being open, hundreds were already on the beach.
Charlie, a Ponte Vedra resident who was on the beach Saturday morning, said there is not a lot of concern for the massive amounts of people on the beach.
“The beach is the safest place to be outside because you have a continuous breeze and a lot of space amongst people. You can’t be in a safer place on the beach,” he told News4Jax.
The parking lot at Mickler’s Landing is open and deputies are monitoring the area. They have also set up cones at the entrance to separate those coming and going.
On Friday evening, the beaches were closed to the public but that didn’t stop many people from hitting the sand and surf in defiance on the last day of the current order.
“COVID-19 is not here, bro,“ a young St. Johns County surfer told News4Jax as he walked off the beach Friday night. "We’ve been out here the whole time, just having fun man.”
As of Friday evening, there were 186 cases of COVID-19 in St. Johns County and four have died due to the illness.
Others also didn’t appear to care that they were violating an order.
Dave Hoffman obeyed the rules and was off the beach but says he’s looking forward to being able to legally step foot on the sand.
“I don’t think they really should have been closed in the first place at all as long as people are staying out of big groups and their walking, swimming, surfing or whatever,” Hoffman said.
A St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said law enforcement is expecting full compliance from beachgoers. Commander Beaver with the Sheriff’s Office said so far it hasn’t had any reports of violations.
News4Jax asked Beaver what actions the deputies will take if there are violations
“First offense is we’re going to educate the people remind them of all the social distancing and guidelines, then maybe we’ll warn them then maybe a written warning, and then if we have to we will give tickets," he said.
Beaver said St. Johns County deputies are on ATVs monitoring the beach as well as more deputies along A1A. Fire rescue is also on the beach monitoring
Under the guidelines put in place by county leaders, no one can bring chairs, grills and towels. That means beachgoers are not allowed to layout and suntan.
Activities allowed on St. Johns County beaches: Walking, running, exercise, surfing, biking, fishing, swimming, surfing and other uses that require physical activity.
Activities NOT allowed: Sunbathing, and sitting, or those otherwise not allowed by local, state, or federal law are not permitted. In addition, items not allowed on the beach include blankets, chairs, coolers, umbrellas, tents and any item that promotes a stationary presence.
Beach visitors must continue to adhere to CDC social distancing guidelines, including limiting gatherings to no more than ten persons and distancing themselves from other parties by a minimum of six feet.
All public parking lots are now open; however on-beach driving remains prohibited.
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Lifeguards may not be on duty so all swimming is at done at your own risk.
“Walk to exercise not to socialize,” said Dawn C. Allicock, director of the Florida Department of Health in St. Johns County. “As long as individuals adhere to the CDC guidelines of social distancing, getting exercise and fresh air can be beneficial for our citizens’ physical and mental health.”
St. Johns County closed its beaches March 29 -- the last county in Northeast Florida to do so -- after officials said crowds were not complying with social distancing guidelines.
Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach reopened at 5 p.m. Friday for the first time in a month, but with similar limitations.
For more information, please call the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center COVID-19 Hotline at 904-824-5550.