County, city beaches to reopen Tues for exercise activities

PHOTO BY KAILA JONES

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — City and county beaches were expected to reopen next week, but specifically for residents who want to exercise, officials said.

Indian River County Administrator Jason Brown said people will be allowed to participate in running, walking, swimming, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding and other forms of exercise at the beaches. Brown said tents, beach umbrellas, chairs, blankets and coolers will not be allowed on the beach.

“The beaches are being reopen so that people can get out, exercise and recreate in the fresh air,” Brown said. “There will be no large gatherings permitted on the beach. We ask (beachgoers) to abide by social distancing guidelines by staying at least six feet away from non-family members.”

Brown spoke about the decision to reopen beaches Friday at the weekly news conference on coronavirus updates at the Indian River County Emergency Operations Center. The joint conferences are being held by the county, health department and the sheriff’s office.

The county’s four guarded beaches – Golden Sands, Wabasso Beach, Tracking Station and Round Island – will reopen at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Indian River County spokesman Brian Sullivan said. In conjunction with the county, the beaches in Vero Beach – Jaycee Park Beach, Humiston Park Beach, South Beack Park, Sexton Plaza Beach, Conn Beach – will also reopen at the same time Tuesday, City Manager Monte Falls said.

Beachcomber Lane Beach in Indian River Shores will also reopen, Brown said.

Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar said residents cannot go to the beach to “hang out.” Loar said deputies would be patrolling the beaches and educating beachgoers on the new guidelines.

“You can’t be stationary,” Loar said.

Those who ignore the beach rules will be given a warning. If beachgoers repeatedly disobey guidelines, they could also face a fine or possibly be arrested, Loar said.

Brown noted there could be a chance that people from other counties could flock to the beaches in Indian River County. Beach ambassadors will be monitoring activity to ensure beachgoers do not endanger themselves or others.

“We will have beach ambassadors to help educate folks regarding acceptable uses and limitations on uses at county beaches,” Brown said. “We’ll see how this goes.”

The beaches will operate under normal hours, from sunrise to sunset, Sullivan said. County officials said beachgoers should not gather in groups larger than 10 people.

The county and city beaches have been closed since March 22 because of coronavirus public health concerns. Sullivan said the decision to reopen beaches will not be impacted by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home order, which remains in effect until April 30.

Thursday, the county announced Sandridge Golf Club, which was also closed, would reopen May 1 under new social distancing guidelines and increased cleaning measures. The guidelines are an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Outdoor activities, such as hitting the beach or golf course, create the least potential for spreading the virus, Brown said. Brown said officials plan to reopen other county facilities overtime in a deliberate and thoughtful manner, focusing on the safety of residents.

County officials will examine current virus conditions and seek advice from health officials before any reopening decisions are made.

“It will be a staggered approach. This will take time,” Brown said. “We are doing this in order to ensure a successful transition back to our new normal.”

Local coronavirus cases

Cory Richter, the former deputy fire chief assisting with the county’s response to local coronavirus cases, said six people who tested positive are currently in the hospital. That amount decreased from the 10 people who were hospitalized last week.

Richter could not clarify if the six people are the same patients that were in the hospital last week, or new patients. The cumulative number of all individuals, residents and non-residents, in the county that were hospitalized at one point from coronavirus is 26, Florida Department of Health officials said.

Richter said Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and Sebastian River Medical Center remained well-prepared to manage coronavirus patients.

“It’s a fluid situation,” Richter said. “We’re learning new things everyday.”

Cleveland Clinic had 4,983 calls to its coronavirus hotline as of Friday, Richter said. The hotline number is 772-226-4846.

Cleveland Clinic has tested a total of 1,657 patients, with 1,533 testing negative, 62 pending results and 62 testing positive, Richter said. Sebastian River Medical Center has tested 71 people total, with 64 testing negative, no cases pending, and seven testing positive.

“Both hospitals are working diligently to treat all the patients they get,” Richter said.

The county has had five COVID-19 related deaths so far, and 89 positive cases reported. Florida Department of Health Officer Miranda Hawker said there have been seven coronavirus cases, including four deaths, reported at HarborChase of Vero Beach, a long-term care facility.

“We need to make sure we’re taking steps to keep everyone healthy,” Hawker said.

Hawker said health officials continue to provide long term care facilities – including nursing homes and assisted living – with expertise in infection control and environmental cleaning. Hawker said the health department is dedicated to “flattening the curve.”

This story will be updated

Photos by Kaila Jones

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