MANATEE COUNTY – In reaction and response to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns, Manatee County’s public beaches will be closed as of Friday, March 20 at 6 a.m.
Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur made this announcement with Sarasota County officials on Thursday afternoon at a 3 p.m. press conference at the Sarasota County Emergency Operations Center.
Sarasota County’s public beaches will close at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, March 21.
Manatee County issued a beach closure-related press release at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Regarding the public beaches in Manatee County, the press release said, “Parking lots will be closed and signs placed to alert drivers, and we expect that most people will heed that advice.”
The parking lots referred to are at the three county beaches on Anna Maria Island – Coquina Beach and Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach and Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach.
What it means
On Thursday afternoon, Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer issued a press release regarding the county’s announcement.
“The Holmes Beach Police Department and Code Compliance Department are enforcing this policy by eliminating public parking. We will continue to proactively patrol the beach to be sure our residents and guests are following the guidance of social distancing. The gates at the public beach located at 4000 Gulf Drive will be locked. Many additional parking areas will be changed to no parking zones. This reduces Holmes Beach’s right of way parking by 70 to 80%. The enforcement guidelines will change based on the daily observations,” Tokajer said in his press release.
When contacted, Tokajer also said the Island’s vacation rental companies are being updated on the closures and any developments that occur.
Lt. John Cosby from the Bradenton Beach Police Department said, “Resort guests, those who live on the Island and those who can find a legal public parking space outside of those areas that are closed will still have access to the beach at this time. We still want you to keep the six-foot distance and no groups larger than 10.”
Cosby said the city of Bradenton Beach currently has no plans to close the public beach access points, some of which are located at city street ends and provide limited or no public parking.
A one-sentence message posted at the city of Anna Maria website Thursday says, “All beaches in the city of Anna Maria will be closed effective 6 a.m. Friday 3/20/20 until further notice.”
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy was not available for comment after the announcement was made Thursday afternoon.
In Thursday’s press release, County Administrator Cheri Coryea said, “Each day as our local situation has changed and new advisories have been sent, Manatee County residents have heeded warnings and taken official advice seriously. We’re hoping for more of the same with our beach announcement.”
The press release notes Manatee County lifeguards will remain on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily to ensure the safety of those who disregard the closure. A double red flag, indicating no swimming, will fly from lifeguard stands.
“Manatee County Code Enforcement Officers will assist the Island communities enforcing the beach closure. The Anna Maria Island Trolley will continue to operate,” the press release says.
While the Coquina Beach Cafe will be closing, for now, the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at Manatee Beach will remain open.
Coryea said the decision was made to close beaches with careful input from the mayors on Anna Maria Island, and after speaking with Sarasota County officials in order to continue the close coordination of the two counties during the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is not a step we take lightly to close our beaches, but together with the advice of the public health officials we believe it is a step that’s in the public’s best interest,” Coryea said in the press release.
“Our primary concern is the health and safety of our residents and visitors and the people they return home to. The leadership of the Island cities of Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Anna Maria and the Town of Longboat Key collectively brainstormed this decision and will have the authority to manage the impacts in their community,” Coryea said in the press release.
Coryea, Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, Manatee County Department of Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Bencie and Saur will provide more details on the local COVID-19 response during a press conference Friday afternoon at 2 p.m.
For a full list of closures and cancellations, visit www.mymanatee.org/coronavirus.