All photos//text: Mimi McKee
The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of East Coast Current
Volusia residents honoring the state and federal orders to “stay home” have taken to social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and NextDoor to express their opinions on whether the public beaches should close temporarily or remain open for essential fitness activities. The coastal communities stand divided and the great debate can not go overlooked on these platforms.
Volusia County Beaches – Open or Closed?
According to a published press release from March 16, 2020, in response to the Lifeguard’s Union urging Volsuia’s beaches closed during the state of emergency, Volusia county stated that “it has a commitment to provide public protection to beachgoers. The health and welfare of Volusia County Beach Safety personnel, as well as residents and visitors, remains a priority.”
In these unprecedented times, Volusia county council originally responded to the growing number of COVID-19 cases with a community-minded approach and closed all beaches on Friday, April 2nd, 2020 to all activity including beach driving, beach lounging, activities and fitness. In less than 24 hours, that decision was modified and the beach access is now limited to essential exercise only including walking, jogging, surfing, swimming, fishing and biking. Activities like sunbathing, sitting in chairs, organized sports or lying on blankets and grouping of people on the beach is prohibited.
Volusia County Rescinds Decision to Close Beaches to All Activity
After the decision flip-flopped, social media exploded with debate about what is the best way to protect citizens from the spread of the virus and promote healthy living while “staying at home.” What changed the minds of county council members? Immediate and constant phone calls, emails and direct messages from concerned residents stating the beach should remain open to essential activities.
One argument in favor of keeping the beaches open is that the closure does not benefit society. Healthy and essential reasons to use the beach are keeping immune systems and mental health strong. If people can walk or jog on the sidewalk, then they should be able to do so at the beach. In some places, the beach has more open-air and up to 200 feet of space, much wider than sidewalks and park trails, to adhere to the six-foot social distancing requirements.
Volusia’s “rigid” closure was compared to measures in southern neighboring Brevard County where access was limited to essential fitness activities. Some Volusia residents felt so strongly a petition was created, using Change.org, to collect signatures of those who believed that “surfing and access to Florida’s waters are essential” to their way of life.
Have other Florida Counties Closed their Beaches?
In comparison, neighboring to the north, Flagler County closed the beach, boardwalk, pier, parks, community centers, pavilions, camping areas, dune walkovers and associated facilities, like parking lots and restrooms on March 23, 2020 until further notice.
Additionally, some Volusia residents were shocked that the county could prohibit public beach access during a pandemic. Some beachside residents argued that “staying at home” means getting to enjoy their neighborhood, including beach access. After all, they pay a certain amount of taxes to live there.
What appears to be the unpopular opinion among residents is upholding the county council’s original decision to keep the beach closed temporarily or at least until the number of cases start falling in Volusia. Locals who advocate for the closure have concerns regarding non-residents using the “limited activities” as an opportunity to travel over from potential central Florida hotspots and unknowingly spread the virus by stopping for gas, using ATMs, shopping for groceries, etc. The county can not legally discriminate against who can access the beach. Historically, people are not great at following all the rules.
Should Volusia County Re-Close the Beach?
Another argument for those in favor of the temporary beach closure, is the health and welfare of Volusia County Beach Safety personnel, all first responders, emergency room and hospital staff, essential business owners and employees, neighbors, friends and relatives who are immunocompromised, patients in ICU beds and those fighting cancer and other disease. All of whom are included as part of the community.
Each of these community members may not have the opportunity to enjoy the beach being opened for limited activities and are already at more risk of contracting COVID-19. The mindset of those in favor of the beach closure is more about standing in unity with the entire community and not in favor of government control.
Easter Weekend in Volusia County
On April 9, Volusia county released a beach update stating, with Easter weekend approaching, the county reminds all residents and visitors that the beach is closed. Beach access is limited to essential exercise only, including walking, jogging and biking. Beach Safety will be enforcing these rules, aiming to educate violators before issuing fines.
“While it might be tempting to get out and about, we continue to stress the importance of staying home,” said County Manager George Recktenwald.
“We know people need fresh air and exercise, but that doesn’t mean getting in your car and driving somewhere; walk out your door and explore your neighborhood. Right now, we can all save lives, just by staying home.”
Make Your Voice Heard
A special county council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 14th, 2020 at 10:00 AM to discuss COVD-19 related matters, which may include, but not be limited to, updates on county activities, the adoption or approval of emergency ordinances, contracts, resolutions and directives. The meeting will be in virtual format and the public will have the options to view the meeting and/or public comment. Residents will still be able to provide written public participation comments via an online portal.
The Public Comment form can be located at www.volusia.org/comments. Please follow the directions on the form to ensure submission. The Public Comment form will be open until the end of the County Council meeting.
- Comments submitted prior to 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 13, 2020, will be provided to the council before the meeting.
- Any comments submitted after5:00 p.m. Monday, April 13, 2020, will be provided to the Council at the end of the meeting.
- All public comment submissions will be included in the official meeting records held by the Deputy Clerk, County of Volusia and posted on the County’s website.
Anyone having issues with the virtual public participation form, or who requires assistance or other reasonable accommodations can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or the Deputy Clerk’s Office at (386) 736-5920. As always, the meeting will be live streamed at www.volusia.org/livemeeting.
There are no private beaches in Volusia county. The beaches are governed and cared for by the county. This type of closure has happened in the recent past during hurricane season to protect public safety, although not for an extended period of time. One exception is Canaveral National Seashore, a national park, that closed March 19, 2020 until further notice in order to protect its visitors from the global pandemic.