COCOA BEACH (CBSMiami) – Beach rules are being relaxed at Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach which is now reopen for sunbathing, sitting in chairs and all other activities, but gatherings must be five people or less and social distancing rules still apply.
Officials had previously enacted an order that prohibited sunbathing, but still allowed the beaches to be used for recreational purposes such as walking, jogging, biking, fishing, surfing and swimming.
"The City would like to thank our community for continuing to abide by the social distancing measures we have put in place at our beaches to safeguard our residents during this pandemic response," Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker wrote in a Tuesday afternoon Facebook post.
"Since these measures have been put in place, the beaches have been areas of strong compliance, while still giving our residents a place to exercise and relax," Barker wrote.
Cocoa Beach's executive order specifies that beachgoers must practice social distancing of at least 6 feet in all directions. Beach parking, beach access parking and the downtown parking garage remain closed.
Flagler County opened up its beaches Tuesday but just for the limited exercise use and not for social gatherings. So did beaches in Sarasota.
Duval County in Jacksonville opened its beaches up last weekend, again, just for exercise.
However, images of what appeared to be a packed beach started trending on social media as #FloridaMorons. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the beachgoers Wednesday saying that despite the crowds, people were in fact adhering to social distance guidelines.
Curry said photos of beachgoers that went viral were misleading.
"There were a number of still photos that made it look like we were overcrowded and there was no distancing, which was not accurate," Curry said.
Most of the photos featured large clusters of people walking on beaches. A few showed police advising people sitting on towels that such activities remain verboten.
Curry's order opening the beaches allows people to walk, bike, hike, fish, run, swim, surf and take care of pets, as long as they maintain physical distancing rules, with the beaches open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
People aren't allowed to sunbathe or bring towels, blankets, chairs, coolers and grills. No organized group activities, from picnics to sporting events, are allowed.
Curry told members of DeSantis' task force on reopening the economy to work with local media as more beaches are made accessible and acknowledged that given a day's notice of the reopening, "a lot of people showed up at once."
DeSantis pointed to Northeast Florida for having fewer cases of coronavirus per 100,000 residents and fewer deaths, than areas between Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts, the source of at least part of the vitriol against Florida.
"I think the folks that are criticizing them don't have a lot of leg to stand on when you're throwing potshots at a county that has better numbers than you," DeSantis told reporters.
"My hat's off to Mayor Curry," DeSantis added. "My hat's off to the people of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida for doing a great job. And for those who try to say you're morons, I would take you over the folks who were criticizing you any day of the week and twice on Sunday."
But it wasn't just people in other parts of the country who piled on after the photos went viral.
Lake Worth Beach City Commissioner Omari Hardy tweeted, "When a person in power doesn't believe in science, they do dumb things that hurt the public. This move is so dumb that I had to make sure it wasn't fake news. You guys, it isn't fake news."
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