"I think by July and August, we’ll be out of ’lockdown,’ or shelter-in-place, if you will," Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson told local entrepreneur Mike Ragsdale during Wednesday’s "30A Beach Happy" podcast.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson expected COVID-19-related vacation rental restrictions not to be lifted until sometime this summer. Adkinson has instead indicated that he believes at least some restrictions could be lifted as soon as next month.


DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson suggested this week that at least some easing of movement and other restrictions imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the spreading new coronavirus, could come within a matter of weeks.


In his "Sheriff Live" interactive Facebook livestream on Friday, Adkinson indicated that his best guess is that vacation rentals and beaches could be open sometime in May.


In that light, responding to a question as to whether a summer vacation would be possible in Walton County, Adkinson said, "If I had an August reservation, if I had a July reservation, I certainly wouldn’t cancel it."



David Demarest, communications director for the county’s South Walton Tourist Development Council, said the TDC isn’t providing potential visitors with any concrete information about when the county might be open again to tourism.


"The best thing we can do is tell them we don’t know," Demarest said.


In the meantime, he said, the TDC is advising potential visitors to become thoroughly familiar with the cancellation policies of local rental agencies, which can range from requiring just 24 hours notice to requiring 30 to 60 days of advance notice. Also, Demarst said, some rental agencies offer opportunities to reschedule.


With that guidance as background, Demarest suggested to potential visitors that "if you’re feeling optimistic, you can book for May or June."


In the meantime, through media appearances like Wednesday’s podcast, and the "Sheriff Live" streaming video presentations on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms, Adkinson has become perhaps the most regularly seen and heard local official as the county negotiates local and state restrictions imposed in hopes of controlling the spread of the coronavirus.


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Among those restrictions are a local state of emergency declaration which includes a shutdown of public and private beaches (the shutdown of private beaches is headed for a federal court hearing on Monday, after a number of beachfront property owners filed suit against the county and Adkinson) and a state-mandated halt to vacation rentals set to expire on Friday.


In recent weeks, "Sheriff Live" has become a weekly livestream, expanding from what had been an every-other-week schedule of the interactive broadcast, during which Adkinson takes a number of viewer questions. And on more than one occasion, the sheriff has jokingly wondered why other local officials haven’t made themselves more visible via social media.


While the sheriff on Wednesday projected some easing of COVID-19-related restrictions by this summer, he also urged visitors to stay away from Walton County for the immediately foreseeable future.


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For now, the sheriff told potential visitors, "sheltering in place is absolutely important." As of late Thursday morning, 11 of the county’s 26 COVID-19 cases were listed as travel-related, and eight cases involved people who are not Walton County residents.


"If we’ll tough it out and do the right thing now, it’s just that much quicker we get back fully on our feet," the sheriff said.


Adkinson had some kind words Wednesday for Walton County residents, telling Ragsdale they are "without question" doing a good job with social distancing and other restrictions, including staying off the beaches, designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19.


"I think our locals are doing a really good job," Adkinson said. "I’ve actually been really surprised with that."


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In other comments, Adkinson urged residents to have some understanding of the tough spot in which the spread of COVID-19 has placed local officials, in particular the county commissioners who established the state of emergency and the beach closure.


"I think if you knew how much struggle they put into a lot of these decisions ...," the sheriff said. "It’s a tough job, because they’re dealing with their friends and neighbors."


Adkinson went on to praise the entirety of the coronavirus response by all local governments across the county.


"This is the most unified I have seen all your local governmental entities," Adkinson said. "Everybody here seems to be playing from the same sheet music, and that’s not always the case."


As far as his own department is concerned, the sheriff said Wednesday that while local emergency responders are practicing COVID-19 prevention protocols, he still worries about the potential effect of the spreading coronavirus on those personnel.


"What we worry about is (things like) ambulances becoming affected, downing one of our eight or nine ambulances, or somebody having sick children and coming to work and passing it on," Adkinson said.


And, the sheriff noted, the very nature of emergency response and law enforcement work means that sheriff’s office personnel will, often knowingly, come into contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19.


Overall, the sheriff said, he’s hoping for an "attrition rate" — meaning the number of days at any given time that personnel are out of work because of Illness, below 15 percent.


"That should keep us operationally sound," Adkinson said.


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