County, city beaches reopen smoothly Tuesday

Jay Thomas surfs at Wabasso Beach Park April 28, 2020 while adhering to the new rules put in place for social distancing and essential activities following the public beach access closures last month. [Kaila Jones/32963]

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — With the exception of people crowding the beach at Sexton Plaza – sunbathing and gathering in small groups – things seemed to be running smoothly after officials reopened county and city beaches Tuesday morning strictly for exercise activities.

“We haven’t had any arrests or major issues,” Vero Beach police spokesman Master Officer Darrell Rivers said, referring to beaches in Vero Beach. “We had a couple people sunbathing on the beaches. We told them the beaches are only for recreational use. They moved along.”

Beach goers are allowed to participate in exercise activities, including swimming, walking, running, kayaking, surfing and paddle boarding. Tents, beach umbrellas, chairs, blankets and coolers are not allowed at guarded beaches.

Friday, county officials announced the beaches would reopen to the public so people can get out of the house, exercise and get fresh air. Law enforcement officials are patrolling the beach areas to make sure people are not “hanging out.”

Indian River County spokesperson Brian Sullivan said the beach reopenings are going as planned, so far. The beaches will operate under the normal schedule, from sunrise to sunset.

“I visited a few of the county beaches earlier today,” Sullivan said. “All beach goers were abiding by the county guidelines while getting fresh air. Beach goers are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Indian River Shores Public Safety Director Rich Rosell said there was not any major or even minor incidents at Beachcomber Lane Beach. Indian River County sheriff’s spokesman Maj. Eric Flowers was not immediately available for comment about the county beaches.

Beach goers were spread out at South Beach Park in Vero Beach Tuesday afternoon, dipping into the waters for a swim. Cones in the sand marked off the public beach area from the private access areas behind residences.

“We chose to do it mid-week so that would give us time to work out any kinks before the weekend,” Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls said. “So far, the response has been good.”

But, Sexton Plaza, an unguarded beach, had several beach goers sitting in chairs and lying on blankets. The county guidelines only apply to guarded areas of the beach, Sullivan said.

The county and city beaches have been closed since March 22 because of coronavirus public health concerns. County officials said the decision to reopen beaches would not be impacted by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home order, which expires Thursday.

The county has beach ambassadors educating residents about what they can or cannot do at the beaches. Beach goers cannot gather in groups of more than 10 people, and cannot be stationary.

Rivers said beach goers who ignore the county guidelines will be given a warning. If the rules are ignored repeatedly, the beach goers will be trespassed from the area for six months and possibly arrested, Rivers said.

A judge will decide if a beach goer who is arrested will be issued a fine or face jail time, Rivers said. The amount of the fine will be decided by the judge, Rivers said.

“The next couple of days, we’ll be focused on educating them about social distancing and the beach rules,” Rivers said. “We want people to enjoy the beach, but they have to follow the county guidelines.”

Vero Beach Vice-Mayor Laura Moss and Mayor Tony Young hit Jacyee Park Beach Tuesday morning. Moss said Tuesday was “the day we put the word ‘beach’ back in ‘Vero Beach.'”

“Today was different. You could feel the air of anticipation,” Moss said. “Smiles all around as the remaining barricades and signage barring us from the beach were removed. Everyone was respectful of the beach and each other. Sandy feet never felt so good.”

Photo provided by Vero Beach Vice-Mayor Laura Moss

Friday, county officials said they are taking a staggered approach to reopening other county facilities, including Sandridge Golf Club, scheduled to reopen Friday. The county will examine current virus conditions and seek advice from health professionals before any reopening decisions are made.

Photos by Kaila Jones


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