The Center Square – As Memorial Day neared, Florida cities were issuing celebratory announcements that local beaches would open for the traditional first weekend of summer.
Five weeks later, as Fourth of July weekend approaches, some of those same cities are declaring beaches off-limits as Florida faces a sustained surge in newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases.
Five south Florida counties, including a 250-mile span from Key West to West Palm Beach, have announced beaches will be closed this weekend. Other local governments could do so in the coming days.
The Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 dashboard reported Tuesday that 152,434 have contracted the disease in Florida since March, including 6,012 new cases diagnosed Monday, and 3,604 people in the state have died from COVID-19.
More than 60 percent of the total cases have been diagnosed since June 5, when there were 61,488 COVID-19 cases in Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis launched phase two of his reopening plan.
DeSantis said last week Florida will not pull back from phase two relaxations, but would not preempt local governments from imposing restrictions, such as beach closures and mandatory mask orders.
On Friday, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) banned alcohol sales and consumption at bars, but the governor has said no further action from the state is expected.
With the Fourth of July weekend days away, some local governments are using the authority DeSantis has ceded to them to close beaches to ward off traditional holiday crowds and impose mandatory mask requirements.
Broward and Palm Beach counties Monday said they would close beaches Friday-Sunday after Miami-Dade County announced it was doing so Friday-July 7.
Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, announced Monday beaches will be closed from 5 p.m. Thursday through dawn July 7.
Collier County commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to close beaches from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on all weekends, starting Friday.
More than 50 municipalities across the state now require face coverings in public, creating a “patchwork” of rules and regulations that concerns the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and Florida Retail Federation (FRF).
“This patchwork of local regulations has created confusion and underscored the challenges small businesses face as they struggle to recover from the shutdown,” NFIB Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle said in a statement. “Under many of these ordinances, owners could be held criminally liable if customers don’t follow the rules and wear a mask. We believe draconian rules that arbitrarily punish small business owners are unfair, especially when the owners are doing everything they can to protect their customers.”
FRF President and CEO Scott Shalley said it is unfair to make store employees police mask mandates of customers who refuse to wear face coverings.
“The mask issue, in and of itself, has shown itself to be very volatile,” he said. “There is definitely, for some people, a political component to it. We really don’t think our sales associates, who are on the front lines providing services to Floridians, should be the ones to be in the middle of that battleground.”
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), if Florida implemented a statewide mandatory mask order, nearly 8,000 lives could be saved by October.
IHME, among modeling groups touted by the White House, forecasts Florida is on track for 15,393 deaths by Oct. 1. If, however, 95 percent of the state’s population wore masks in public, that number is projected to be 7,525 fatalities, a 51 percent decline in projections.