As Pinellas Commissioners weigh reopening the county’s beautiful beaches, a new poll conducted on the eve of a decision shows that a majority of residents are opposed.
St. Pete Polls surveyed county residents Monday, ahead of an anticipated vote by the seven commissioners. Last month, the board closed all public beaches and public beach parking to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Polling also found that 69% of respondents favor a countywide order requiring people to wear masks in public. Only 27% oppose such an order while 5% are undecided.
On the issue of reopening nonessential business, Pinellas County voters are split. A slight number of voters, 46%, favor lifting the closures while 44% want those businesses to stay closed — within the 1.6% margin of error. The remaining 10% of respondents are undecided.
With nearby Sarasota County’s beaches open again as of Monday, the pressure is on for Pinellas County to join a growing list of counties that are moving toward reopening. Earlier this month, Jacksonville paved the way to reopen beaches, drawing national ire.
Late Friday, Pinellas County administrator Barry Burton penned a letter to the County Commission recommending the rollback of some restrictions set to slow the spread of COVID-19, including reopening beaches and pools with some restrictions.
Under Burton’s plan, beaches could reopen for exercise for limited hours, beach parking facilities could reopen after two days and restrooms could open with enhanced cleaning criteria. At pools, he recommended half capacity and that owners properly clean and sanitize pool areas and equipment.
The following day, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who opposed the initial closure, came out in favor of reopening beaches and pools in a Facebook post. The county’s initial concern of Spring Breakers crowding the beaches is now moot as only residents, many with beachfront properties, are left the enjoy the remaining amenities available during the stay-at-home order.
“At this time, Pinellas County residents have adjusted to the new norm of social distancing, and I believe they will continue to responsibly use these best practices on our beaches and in the pools,” he wrote. “However, if necessary, [the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office] has the resources to ensure compliance through a gentle reminder.”
He pointed to the stabilization of new positive COVID-19 tests, which has hovered at between 4% and 8% in the past week, including those who have previously tested positive who were retested. In that same period, the statewide rate has been between 6% and 10%.
Meanwhile, hospitals have the capacity to handle the increase in new cases, “which will likely occur once closures are lifted.”
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s containment strategy calls for relaxed social distancing strategies after June 21 “with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size.”
St. Pete Polls polled 3,697 active voters in Pinellas County by automated phone call. The results were weighted for political party, race, age, gender and media market.