Memorial Day weekend is usually one of the busiest on Florida's beaches.
But Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Friday that won't be the case this year. Speaking to reporters at an outdoor beach command center, he said Pinellas leaders want to make sure there's no spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.
"It's not business as usual," he said. "The beaches are open, but they are not freely open, in that everybody can just cram in and jam in and do what people normally do on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July or any other great weekend during the summer on the Pinellas beaches."
Gualtieri said 300 deputies will be patrolling Pinellas beaches, keeping groups of people at 10 or less, and enforcing social distance guidelines that recommend a distance of at least 6 feet.
He said popular spots like Clearwater Beach, Pass-A-Grille and Honeymoon Island will close to additional visitors early on each day once they reach capacity. Honeymoon Island, a state park, will close once 4,500 people enter through the main gate.
All weekend, deputies will be updating the Sheriff Office's beach command center about the number of people on access roads, beaches and adjacent parking lots.
That information will be updated every 30 minutes on a Pinellas Beach capacity dashboard, now through Monday evening. Last Saturday, the site received more than 28,000 visits.
Memorial Day may be the last full weekend deputies will be patrolling the beaches, as it's an 'unprecendented' use of resources, Gualtieri said. That decision, however, will be based on whether the county's number of new COVID-19 cases levels off or decreases.
He said the county is currently averaging around 15 or so new cases a day, and local bsuinesses and beaches are opening at up to 50 percent capacity. It will be two to three weeks before there's evidence that Phase One of reopening the county is working, he said.