'This is a good time to display citizenship, rather than to think about what you aren't being able to do because of the measures that are necessary to protect you,' County Administrator Jerry Cameron said.
Despite requests submitted by more than 25 residents, Flagler County officials during a video-conferenced County Commission meeting April 6 said they will not reopen the county's beaches, citing concern over public safety and the risk that local beaches, if reopened, could attract out-of-town visitors.
"This is a really, really critical situation. We have been very fortunate in keeping our numbers low, and a lot of it has to do with getting in front of this and taking measures to keep the spread to a minimum."
— JERRY CAMERON, Flagler County administrator
"I understand that they want to use the beach, but their sole criteria is that they want to use the beach," County Administrator Jerry Cameron said of the more than two dozen people who wrote to the county asking for beaches to be reopened for exercise. "We are reviewing that every day with a partnership meeting, and at least once a week, we are discussing that."
The county discusses it every time a surrounding county makes a change, because those affect Flagler, he said. Volusia County reopened its beaches to forms of exercise like walking, surfing, swimming or fishing, but not to sunbathing or group sports, on Saturday, April 4.
The residents who submitted emailed comments for the commission meeting's public comment period, many of them beachside residents, had mostly requested a policy like Volusia's that would let people go on beach walks or fish in the surf, but would ban gatherings. Many wrote that people walking or jogging on sidewalks are often closer together than the recommended 6 feet, because a sidewalk has limited room to pass — unlike a beach.
But it's not county resident who are the problem, Cameron said.
"If in fact it was just our folks that were out there, walking, practicing social distancing and being responsible, then they are correct that that would probably be a beneficial thing rather than a detrimental one," he said. "But what we have seen across the state is that if you permit people to go on the beach in one area when other areas are closed, that you get an influx of people from the outside that come into the county... and when they get on the beach, they do not practice good, safe practices, they don't do social distancing, and they don't do group control."
That's why the county had closed beaches in the first place, he noted — the Health Department and Flagler Beach Police Department had seen people, mostly from out of the area, not following social distancing guidelines on the beach.
"We do review that on a periodic basis, and there's nothing that we'd like to do more than to open those beaches because of the positive things that folks have talked about," Cameron said. "But when you have a lot of unintended consequences from doing that, then it's not a simple thing of the fresh air is good for you; you have an invasion of sorts. We are maintaining it because we simply don't have enough law enforcement to go out there and enforce this."
He noted that the county's curve, and the state's, appear to be flattening.
But, he said, "Nobody wants to deprive people of the right to use the beach or any of our facilities; it is strictly for safety."
The county will reopen beaches and other facilities, he said, as soon as it's prudent to do so.
"This is a good time to display citizenship, rather than to think about what you aren't being able to do because of the measures that are necessary to protect you," Cameron said. "We ask for your support, because with that our employees are a lot less discouraged."