Despite a recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases, beaches across Bay, Walton and Okaloosa counties will be open for Independence Day.
As of Tuesday, officials across the three-county stretch added that no meetings were slated to discuss a possible closure.
Louis Svehla, spokesman for Walton County, said that limiting events to 50 or less people is basically the only restriction that’s been discussed for the holiday weekend.
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Apart from that, Walton commissioners haven’t really talked about imposing any additional limitations, Svehla added.
“We have seen our (coronavirus) cases go up, (but) for the last few days though, they’ve actually been relatively low as far as new cases,” he said.
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With the Fourth of July just days away, the city of Destin isn’t looking at shutting things down again either.
“The city is monitoring the numbers and staying in contact with the county, emergency management and the health department,” Catherine Card, spokeswoman for Destin, wrote in an email Monday. “At this time there has not been a discussion regarding a shut down of our area or any summer projects being affected.”
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For Trey Goodwin, chair of the Okaloosa Commission, the beach isn’t a “high risk area.”
Goodwin added that it’s also a good amenity for residents looking for "open air recreation and sunshine.“
Further east In Bay County, Commission Chairman Philip Griffitts wrote in an email that he believes the beach is a “great way to practice social distancing.
“We know we’re a tourist destination, and there’s certainly that risk (for tourists to spread the virus), which is why it’s important that people practice personal responsibility,” Griffitts wrote.
Mark Sheldon, mayor of Panama City Beach, agreed and added that it’s important to remember the Panhandle has been impacted by COVID-19 much less than larger, metropolitan areas across Florida.
Sheldon also didn’t expect for the upcoming holiday to be any busier than what was seen following Memorial Day weekend.
“I just don’t feel like we should totally stop our tourism industry for (this) situation,” he said. “We are monitoring it, we still have the availability (in hospitals) and we can’t classify ourselves like some of the major beaches that are out there.
“... The city has lost millions of dollars this year by not having the economy open,” Sheldon added.
Okaloosa, like Bay and Walton counties, has seen a recent spike in positive cases as more testing becomes available. Since the virus first made headlines earlier this year, Okaloosa has logged more than 500 cases, Walton has recorded more than 200 and Bay County has confirmed nearly 400.
"The idea that we could have some additional instances of the virus being brought here by tourists is a real possibility, but what we’re really seeing more of and what tends to be, I think, the bigger concern is the community spread and making sure that we understand how that’s occurring and what the results of that are,“ Goodwin said.