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 or the Panama City News Herald .

SHALIMAR — Starting May 1, beaches within Okaloosa County’s jurisdiction will be open to the general public from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily, with all beach activities permitted.



RELATED: Florida schools closed the rest of the school year


The County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved that temporary scenario, which was suggested by Commissioner Kelly Windes.


RELATED: Physically, not socially distanced - Locals find ways to celebrate milestones in a pandemic


The Destin City Council plans to hold a special meeting on April 29 to consider reopening the beaches within Destin. Council members on Monday had looked ahead and talked about the importance of implementing temporary beach hours that reflect the county’s.


Gulf-front beaches in the county and Destin have been closed since late March as a way to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.


A handful of residents at Tuesday’s commission meeting urged the board to fully reopen the beaches in the county’s jurisdiction, with normal daily hours from dawn to dusk. Some said doing so would help various local businesses.


But most commissioners favored a gradual approach.


After noting that the commission continues to meet weekly during the pandemic, Windes said the board could readdress the limited beach hours at a later session if officials see a spike in COVID-19 cases.


"The bottom line is, we have to start somewhere, and I believe it’s time we make a move," said Windes, whose district includes Destin.


Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, whose district includes Okaloosa Island, initially said she was not in favor of opening the beaches, even on a limited basis.


"I think we’re moving too quickly," she said. The coronavirus "is not the flu. There is medicine to cure the flu. There is not medicine to cure COVID."


Commissioner Nathan Boyles, however, said he saw no reason why the beaches should remain closed, as people have been walking and exercising in other areas.


When asked for his thoughts, Sheriff Larry Ashley said the Sheriff’s Office would do whatever the board wants, as long as the beaches are open to everyone.


Windes’ suggestion on the limited beach hours is "an effort at finding a reasoned approach in a very uncertain time," Commission Chairman Trey Goodwin said.


"I think folks are wearing out with this (pandemic)," he added. It is causing "a heck of a strain on families and businesses. We didn’t shut down businesses. That was done at the state level. But at least this (limited opening of the beaches) will allow some recreational use."


As of late Tuesday morning, Okaloosa County’s total number of positive cases of COVID-19 stood at 134, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.