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Florida governor refuses to shut down beaches amid spread of coronavirus

Gov. Ron DeSantis said it's "not uniform throughout the state that you're seeing massive crowds at beaches," despite videos of gatherings in Tampa Bay.
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to issue an order to close the state's beaches, despite fears regarding the spread of the coronavirus.

He instead signed an order that would limit parties on beaches to 10 people per group and force any restaurant to reduce occupancy by half, DeSantis told reporters Tuesday. The governor said that local governments can make their own decisions but that his order would follow the latest guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"What we're going to be doing for the statewide floor for beaches, we're going to be applying the CDC guidance of no group on a beach more than 10 and you have to have distance apart if you're going to be out there," DeSantis said. "So that applies statewide."

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DeSantis said it's "not uniform throughout the state that you're seeing massive crowds at beaches," despite reports of large gatherings on Tampa Bay-area beaches.

A video posted Monday by NBC affiliate WFLA showed people packed together on Clearwater Beach.

The city of Clearwater said Tuesday that it was shutting down Pier 60 and its spring break camps "out of an abundance of caution" but that its shores remain open to the public.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday reiterated details from DeSantis' order on Twitter, but he did not mention plans to close the beach.

"Uniformity helps. No congregating on beaches, too. All in interest of public health," Kriseman tweeted.

The state has 192 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and five deaths in the outbreak as of Tuesday.

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Panama City Beach City Council said Tuesday that there were no plans to close the beaches, despite the fact that it is an infamous spring break destination for college students and young people.

The council instead prohibited all public gatherings consisting of more than 10 people as well as cancelling special events through May 1.

The mayors of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, two of the most popular beach destinations in the state, issued orders to close their beaches Sunday.

CORRECTION (March 19, 2020, 11:17 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated what restaurants are covered by the governor’s order. All restaurants were ordered to reduce occupancy by half, not just those that serve alcohol.