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Pinellas Sheriff: Boat Ramps, Marinas To Stay Open

sheriff stands in front of microphones, showing photos to unseen audience
Courtesy: Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announces boat ramps and marinas will remain open this weekend at a Friday press conference.

Boat ramps and marinas in Pinellas County are going to remain open to the public despite other COVID-19 restrictions.

In a press conference Friday, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he sees "no problem" with it – but he’s reminding people they need to behave.

"The only thing that people need to do with recreational boating is to adhere to the executive order, which means they have to stay at least 50 feet apart and you can have no more than 10 people on a vessel," he said. "We encourage people to go out and enjoy the sunshine. Recreate, but do it within the guidelines."

He said last weekend got "a little ugly" in terms of people not practicing social distancing guidelines while out on the water.

"People were on top of each other and a lot of boats, especially (at) Three Rooker Island in the north part of the county, Shell Key, Outback Key, the spoil islands and John's Pass," he said. "People just need to thin out and abide by what the rules are and we don't have a problem."

Gualtieri said law enforcement agencies will have about 15 boats patrolling the water this weekend to ensure the guidelines are followed.

Recreational boating is still allowed – and even encouraged – as an essential activity under Governor Ron DeSantis' executive order, which took effect Friday.

People should still plan to avoid beaches, though. 

On March 19, Pinellas County Commissioners voted unanimously to close public beaches in response to the coronavirus pandemic. They were originally slated to reopen April 6 before county commissioners extended the closing until April 10.

But Gualtieri said he doesn't envision the beaches reopening anytime "in the near future."

He said "the worst is yet to come" in terms of COVID-19 infection in Florida. As of Friday morning, 9,585 people in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

In Pinellas County, 289 people have tested positive, seven people have died.

"We have not hit the bottom of this, we have not seen the worst of it," he said. "That's why it's very, very important that we do everything possible to prevent the spread and that means effective social distancing.

"By all accounts, the best thing that you can do to avoid catching this is to stay away from others."

Gualtieri didn't give an estimation on when he expected the beaches to reopen.

DeSantis' executive order didn't mention anything related to beaches. Gualtieri said the omission was purposeful and allows individual counties to handle beach closures as they see fit.

He said there will be consequences for people who violate the regulations set in place by county commissioners.

"I don't know what people don't understand, this is serious, we have not hit the peak,” Gualtieri said. “People are going to die, and we (have) got to stop the spread of this thing."

Jonah Hinebaugh is the WUSF social media intern for spring 2020.
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