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St. Johns County extends local state of emergency, keeps beaches closed

Despite pushback form citizens and an online petition, the St. Johns County commission will not reopen its beaches, even for limited hours

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – St. Johns County commissioners, meeting remotely in an online video conference, voted Tuesday to extend the local state of emergency for the third time. It’s something commissioners are required to do every week to keep the county’s Emergency Management plan active.

Despite a petition and public comment asking for the county’s beaches to reopen at least for limited hours, commissioners decided to keep them closed for now.

The decision to extend the emergency comes as the county sees a jump in new coronavirus cases. The highest concentration of people in Northeast Florida who have tested positive for coronavirus diseases outside of Jacksonville is in the northern part of St Johns County, in ZIP codes 32081, 32082 and 32259. That stretches from the St. Johns River to Ponte Vedra Beach.

Under that plan, the county administrator has increased permissions to assign equipment, materials and personnel to combat COVID-19. The county had already extended the closure of government buildings, libraries, the St Augustine Amphitheater, Ponte Vedra Concert Hall and all beaches through May 1. No vote is required to keep those closures in effect.

The continuing beach closures have created some controversy. More than 11,000 people have signed a change.org petition calling for opening the beaches for limited hours. Most of 30 people who spoke during the public comments portion of Tuesday’s meeting want at least limited access to the beaches but several commissioners said that this wouldn’t be a wise decision to make at this time with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

Commissioners said this is something they will continue to review access to the beaches each week.

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