Florida, South Carolina reopen beaches as states begin to loosen restrictions

The governors are giving the green light despite concerns over the continuing coronavirus outbreak.

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By Alicia Victoria Lozano

States eager to resume business as usual began to loosen restrictions this weekend despite reporting an increase in coronavirus infections.

Florida residents returned to the beaches Friday after Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the green light to reopen parts of the coast, on the same day the state reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster reopened boat ramps Friday and intends to reopen beaches next week, according to local news outlets. On Saturday, the state announced 165 new COVID-19 cases and three new deaths, bringing South Carolina's total to 4,246 infections and 119 deaths, according to public health officials.

Florida also reported an uptick in cases. The state's Department of Health announced 1,413 additional infections on Friday, topping previous highs. An additional 516 coronavirus cases were reported Saturday, bringing the state total to 25,269, and 14 additional deaths brought the number of fatalities to 740.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham, Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown and Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser said their beaches would reopen exclusively for exercise, not tanning or congregating in large groups.

“Just to be clear, this is an opportunity for people to come out to the beach to exercise a couple of times a day. It’s not a sunbathing opportunity,” Latham said in a statement.

Florida officials were criticized early into the COVID-19 outbreak after images emerged of spring breakers drinking and partying on the state's beaches. One 22-year-old man who initially boasted about breaking social distancing rules later apologized and said he wasn't "aware of the severity of my actions."

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DeSantis also came under attack for refusing to close beaches last month despite a growing outbreak. Less than a week later, Florida closed state parks after coronavirus cases increased.

On Friday, DeSantis told local leaders they were free to reopen beaches as long as social distancing guidelines were enforced.

The beaches will open every day from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. They will be closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

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First responders and lifeguards will patrol beaches and access points to enforce guidelines. Coolers, chairs, blankets, towels and grills are not permitted. Surfing and swimming are allowed but not sunbathing.

“We can't stress enough that how long the beaches will stay open will be 100 percent determined by the beachgoers," Latham said. "As long as everyone complies by the times, guidelines, the social distancing, we will be okay. We want you to be able to use the beach as an asset and enjoy yourself, but we have to maintain the safety factor.”