This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Northwest Florida Daily News.
MIRAMAR BEACH — He was sitting in a beach chair, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico surging ashore just some dozens of yards away, but Barry Atkinson wasn’t all that happy.
It’s true enough that Atkinson, a Destin plumbing contractor, and his son, Ryan, were spending a late Tuesday afternoon gazing across the water, but they were peering through strands of wood and wire fencing on a boardwalk along Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach.
RELATED: Florida coronavirus update: DeSantis issues statewide stay-at-home order
At that point, they were doing their best to cope with a unanimous March 19 decision by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners to close the county’s beaches for 30 days as part of an earlier declaration of a local state of emergency.
RELATED: What is considered ‘essential’ in Gov. DeSantis’ stay-at-home order?
Hours later, things might have gotten even tighter as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday issued a 30-day statewide stay-at-home order, set to become effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday how the governor’s order could affect enjoyment, however limited, of beaches. The order defines essential activities to include recreational activities (with social distancing) like walking and biking.
Both the local actions and DeSantis’ order are aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, the serious respiratory illness caused by the spreading new coronavirus.
The county commission’s earlier vote to close beaches came after the county reported its first case of COVID-19.
Nearly two weeks into the beach closures, Atkinson and his son were resigned, if somewhat grudgingly, to the fact that their reality had changed — in ways potentially more serious than they had imagined at the time.
“I’ll survive,” Barry Atkinson said wryly, when all he had to deal with was the beach closure, “but I’m gonna gripe about it.”
Elsewhere along Scenic Gulf Drive in Walton County on Tuesday, public beach accesses were adorned with orange barricades and yellow caution tape, to keep vehicles and would-be beach visitors away.
And on the beach itself on Wednesday morning, Walton County Code Enforcement trucks made their way long the sand, on the lookout for wayward beach wanderers.
A short distance westward across the county line in Okaloosa County, the scene was much the same, as people enjoyed a day at, or more accurately near, the beach.
“We come here every day,” said George Michailidis, enjoying the morning with his children, 11-year-old Dmitris and 3-year-old Mirella, at the James Lee Park Beach Access.
Michailidis moved his family to the Florida beaches from California’s San Francisco Bay area just two weeks ago.
“When we came, they (the beaches) were still open,” Michailidis said. Even after the closures, Michailidis continued to come to the beach with his children, spending time walking along the access boardwalk and playing under the picnic shelter.
The day before at the James Lee Park Beach Access, Jesse Smalley, along with his wife, Janie, and their three children — 8-year-old Maddie, 4-year-old Lily, and 2-year-old Carson, had staked out a section of the parking lot and an adjoining sidewalk.
Residents of the northern Georgia town of Kennesaw, the Smalleys are visiting his parents at their Destin home, and as of Tuesday afternoon, were planning to stay through the end of April.
Without access to the beach, the Smalleys have been renting a pontoon boat, giving them a chance to get out on the water, bypassing the beach. In between, though, they’ve been coming to the beach access to at least get a taste of being at the beach.
“It’s worked out so far,” Jesse Smalley said. But with a stay-at-home order now in place, if they continue visiting with their parents, the Smalleys may have to rely on another of their go-to recreational options.
“We’ve been doing some karaoke competitions at night,” Smalley said.