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SHALIMAR — Okaloosa County staffers will come up with a plan to fully reopen the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier and all beaches in the county’s jurisdiction on Saturday, May 9, the County Commission decided Tuesday.
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With a continuous decline in the number of people going to local healthcare facilities with fevers, coughs and other coronavirus symptoms, the commission tentatively agreed on that opening date. The board could make it official by approving a declaration next Tuesday.
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Once fully reopened, the beaches will be open from sunrise to sunset daily.
From this Friday until May 9, the beaches and the pier will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily. All beach activities, including commercial ones such as weddings and beach chair/umbrella rentals, will be allowed whenever the beaches are open.
As of Tuesday morning, the total number of coronavirus cases in county was 152, county Public Safety Director Pat Maddox said.
If the number of cases spike after the limited or normal beach hours are implemented, the board could consider closing the beaches once again.
After making the motion for the staff to come up with a plan to open the beaches on May 9, Commissioner Kelly Windes noted that local residents have “been suppressed enough” by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pier and 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.
The Destin City Council on Wednesday plans to discuss reopening beaches in Destin with at least limited hours.
The limited opening time-frames at the county beaches starting Friday are designed to be a disincentive to travel from outside the county from potential COVID-19 hot spots, according to Craig Coffey, deputy county administrator of operations.
Whenever the beaches are open, it will be vital for people to practice social distancing, county officials said.
“I hope we’re doing the right thing,” Commissioner Graham Fountain said about fully opening the beaches next week. “This is going to boil down to PR, and I don’t mean ‘public relations.’ It’s ‘personal responsibility.’ God forbid we don’t have any new (coronavirus) numbers that change our mind.”