Collier commissioners agree to reopen county beaches Thursday
Collier commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to reopen the county's beaches, including parking lots and restrooms starting at sunrise Thursday.
Commissioner Penny Taylor wanted to place time restrictions on the opening of the beaches, but the motion moved forward without those restrictions. Commissioner Andy Solis also voted against the motion saying it would create a hot spot.
"I spoke to two medical professionals over last 24 hours and one asked: ‘Why would you want to create an attraction for a hot spot when your beaches are open and others are closed?’” Taylor said.
The board’s decision to reopen the county beaches came just hours after Lee County reopened its beaches.
"Normal operating hours at all parks, preserves and beach-access sites will be observed," Lee County spokeswoman Betsy Clayton wrote in a news release.
Previously:Collier County leaders look to create committee to plan reopening of economy, beaches, parks
The Collier Commission voted unanimously to also reopen the county’s hard courts and playing fields in parks so long as people follow the Center for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines.
Playgrounds and aquatic facilities will remain closed, but County Manager Leo Ochs said he will look into providing more information during the board’s May meeting.
The restrictive hours Commissioner Donna Fiala and Taylor proposed were to limit the number of non-Collier residents driving across the state to use the county's beaches. This was the case with east coast residents coming to Collier boat ramps.
“If a group of people want to come over from Miami, our folks don’t have to be exposed to them if they maintain social distancing,” Commissioner Burt Saunders said. “My personal view is we should open beaches, parking and bathroom facilities. Open them as long as social distancing is strictly maintained.”
Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said he thinks the question of enforcement is a slippery slope with regards to the constitution.
"However, we have the staff to remind people that if there is an order to enforce that has been adopted, I would hope and I would ask the public just not to do that," he said. "Go recreate, get outdoors, you don’t need a party of 30 on the beach.Yes we have the capability do to that, however I would ask the public just to do what is right."
Collier County has 568 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16 deaths due to COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Health’s April 28 report. Earlier in April, President Donald Trump and the federal government issued a phased strategy for reopening the country.
The guidelines detail "gating" criteria that must be met before states, regions or municipalities can begin the reopening process. These include: a downward trend in influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like cases reported within a 14-day period and a robust testing program, among other things.
Stephanie Vick, administrator of the Collier County Health Department, said during the meeting that the county has yet to meet any of the three gating criteria of the federal guidelines.
"We are moving in the right direction, but we just need to hold pretty steady and keep going," she said.
COVID-19 in Collier County: April 28th confirmed positive cases
Dr. David Lindner, with the NCH Healthcare System, agreed that the county is not yet meeting those federal gating criteria.
"Over the past few days, my colleagues and I have noticed a slight uptick in the percentage of patients," Lindner said. "Is that something? Only the next few days will tell. When we instituted social distancing, which has worked, I do congratulate the community on doing that. I think we need to be very cautious. "
Representatives from both NCH and Physicians Regional Healthcare System said they are at a good place with the number of beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment in stock. Neither healthcare system is overcapacity, and both are eager to restart elective surgeries.
Michael Dalby of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce said about 70% of the chamber's members have been negatively affected by the state's stay at home orders. As the state transitions to reopening, Dalby stressed the need for a phased approach to lower the risk of continued coronavirus spread.
At the end of the meeting, Saunders stressed that the county cannot reopen the economy.
“There has been a misconception that Collier County businesses are closed because of the Collier government,” he said. “They are closed because of the governor’s order and we are complying with that order. We have opened our parks and beaches, so citizens of Collier have to exercise social distancing, or we have to rethink what we’ve done."
More:Coronavirus Florida: Gov. DeSantis sees 'light at the end of the tunnel'
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @karlstartswithk, email him at email@example.com