Memorial Day weekend plus a pandemic equals busy beaches in Pinellas

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The county reached an “unprecedented degree of closures” Saturday as about 300 regulation enforcement officers patrolled the sands.

Most seashores in Pinellas County reached potential via mid-afternoon Saturday, the begin of Memorial Day weekend, forcing regulation enforcement to flip away some beachgoers who obtained a later start.

About 20 public seashore get admission to factors have been closed earlier than eleven a.m. Just after lunchtime, the Sheriff’s Office introduced that the county was once attaining an “unprecedented degree of closures” as about 300 regulation enforcement officers patrolled the sands from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.
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“If you’re now not on the seashores yet, get an previously begin tomorrow,” examine a tweet linking to the agency’s on line dashboard for seashore capability updates. It confirmed greater than 70 get right of entry to factors closed with the aid of three p.m. and congestion most of the day on bridges main to Clearwater Beach and Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin.

Deputies blocked entrances of busy parking loads alongside Gulf Boulevard in south Pinellas, inflicting traces of motors to circle nearby streets for space. “Beach full,” signs and symptoms in the front of sheriff’s cruisers read. “No admittance at this time.”

There have been no arrests, citations or most important incidents on the seashores as of four p.m., stated Jennifer Crockett, head of communications for the Sheriff’s Office. “Things crammed up faster these days than we have ever considered before,” she added. “But human beings have been surprisingly cooperative.”

Many on the seashores stated they felt protected notwithstanding massive crowds and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Some saved to themselves and stated social-distancing stayed top-of-mind. Others gathered in giant groups, leaned towards seashore bars and unfolded towels and chairs close by strangers the place open sand was once difficult to find.

“It’s now not usually going to be flawlessly 6 toes between people, however I sense like human beings are attempting to maintain their space,” stated 21-year-old Yasmina Hernandez from a towel on Sunset Beach. “It’s everyone’s character preference whether or not they come out or not.”

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A bit south, Michael Montoya, 65, was once sitting in a seaside chair, taking part in the sunshine with his toes in the sand. He left his domestic in Tampa early to make certain he bought a spot a number of ft from every body else.

“Social distancing is the ticket,” he said. “I’ve been in the residence for months and had to get out for some clean air … But I’m now not socializing or sitting shut to people.”

Sharon Servente, 75, of Brooksville, had a comparable take. Her daughter rents the equal apartment every Memorial Day weekend and she didn’t see the outing as a large risk, being that they’re spending most of their time outdoors.

“It’s sparkling air and we’re out in the water,” stated Connie Urso from below an umbrella down the beach. She owns a rental nearby and invited household to remain after developing antsy in quarantine.

Urso, 58, stated most humans revered their house Saturday. But she issues about different children looking to play with her grandchildren when they arrive Sunday, and having to inform them no.

Further north, at Madeira Beach, Kristina Schoen, 33, sunbathed with her fiancé Jared Hendry. The Tampa couple arrived at the seaside early, about 9:30 a.m. She seen a heavy police presence proper away as officers patrolled by way of foot, automobile and ATV.

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Police presence was bigger than normal in Clearwater, too, where about two dozen officers were patrolling beaches. That’s about double normal staffing, said Clearwater police spokesman Rob Shaw.

The northern and southern tips of Clearwater Beach were more crowded than the center, likely because of the location of hotels. So officers tried to funnel visitors to other parts of the beach that were less busy, like near Pier 60.

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Beach goers are seen along Clearwater Beach Saturday. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Police Chief Dan Slaughter said beachgoers were more tolerant of police than usual. “I can’t say I’ve ever policed a more compliant public in my life,” he added. Still, he has concerns about what the rest of the weekend will look like, and expects the beach to quickly reach capacity.

In the afternoon, a group of eight teens sat in the shade of a palm tree near the pier. They wanted to get out of the house, said 15-year-old Augie Mojica, but still tried to keep their distance from others.

“Everybody is acting like it’s back to normal, but it’s really not,” said 15-year-old Andrew Duncan of Dunedin. He said no one seems to care as much about the precautions recommended by health officials anymore.

Tiffany Mathers, 44, felt the same way as she bopped her head to music at Madeira Beach about 1 p.m. She lives across the street and was stunned to see the beach so busy when she walked over in the morning.

“I have never seen this many umbrellas,” she said. “This is not social-distancing at all. There’s way too many people.”

Most of those she met on the beach came from out of town, Mathers said. It felt awkward to ask people to move further away from her when they set up tents and chairs nearby. She kept thinking about the mask in her bag, wondering if she should put it on.

“I don’t want to be ugly to visitors,” she said. “But I feel like we’ve been educated for too long about social-distancing for it to be this way.”

Corey VanDerKellen and Sarah Moczisko, fiancés from Chicago, visited Clearwater Beach in the afternoon. It took some time to find parking, but they finally secured a spot on Papaya Street and stepped into the heat wearing masks.

It seemed like the right thing to do to protect themselves and others, said Moczisko. They didn’t want to miss a chance to see the waves and the birds.

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“I’m not going to change my life forever,” VanDerKellen said. “You have to keep carrying on. You have to enjoy the little things.”

On the other side of the bay, Tampa’s parks were quieter. As temperatures reached 90 Saturday afternoon, Bayshore Boulevard was relatively empty compared to other days. A few people enjoyed the shade along Channel Drive on Davis Islands. Curtis Hixon Park was a popular spot for graduation portraits but had only a spattering of activity.

There were more signs of the holiday weekend on the Hillsborough River, as crowded boats with inflatable floats sticking out the back passed by.

Louis and Marlena Leary lounged on one of the benches outside the Glazer Children’s Museum. They had been told to leave the same spot a couple of weeks ago, not having realized it was part of the park. It had been frustrating trying to find someplace to enjoy the outdoors before the parks reopened.They enjoyed their time in the sun on Saturday, but had intentionally stayed away from the beaches this holiday weekend.

“This weekend, no,” Marlena said. “We like something like this, where we can have space. We’ll probably stay away from anything too crowded for a while.”

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