Councilman Geoff McConnell added that while beaches are back open, it’s not an invitation for tourists to come back.

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PANAMA CITY BEACH — After more than a month of being closed, the city’s beaches are set to partially reopen on Friday.


The Panama City Beach City Council on Thursday, equipped with two new members, voted to partially reopen the city’s sandy portion of the Gulf Coast. This news comes days after the Bay County Commission approved a similar ordinance to reopen unincorporated beaches on Friday.


The ordinance, which states that the beaches will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each day starting Friday, still prohibits all commercial activity on the beach and requires that groups continue to maintain social distancing guidelines. Also discussed during Thursday’s meeting were special events, league sports and community centers, which will still be closed until May 15.


APRIL 21, 2020: Unincorporated Bay County beaches reopening Friday, Panama City Beach expected to follow suit


"None of us have a crystal ball on this (issue), and we’re in uncharted waters for sure," Councilman Paul Casto said. "I think a soft beach opening is a logical step at this time.


"... I think it’s a reasonable step, (and) it’s a trial run," he added.


Casto, along with Councilman Geoff McConnell, agreed that if any "flair ups" of the COVID-19 virus are caused by the reopening, the council should act quick and shut it back down.



"I am a little concerned with our surrounding states not having any decline in new cases, and I’m a little concerned with Georgia still increasing," McConnell said. "However, I think that this is probably the time to take a look at it and open it up for people."


He added that while beaches are back open, it’s not an invitation for tourists to come back. He also said that the sole purpose of the ordinance was to give residents another outlet for recreational activity.


For McConnell, voting to close the beach was probably the hardest decision of his political career.


"This is not something that any of us have taken lightly," he said. "I think this is a good first step."


APRIL 20, 2020: Panama City Beach mayor reconsiders emergency meeting on reopening beach


Newly elected Mayor Mark Sheldon, in his first council meeting, added that while it’s still unclear what life will look like after quarantine, it’s important for people to have some form of normalcy during these hard times.


He along with the other councilmen, said that the city will work closely with the local fire and police departments to monitor beachgoers.


"Getting our residents back out onto the white sandy beach is crucial," Sheldon said. "It’s crucial to people’s livelihood, and it’s crucial to people’s mindset."