Florida governor won't close beaches to spring break crowds

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Despite a raging pandemic, Ron DeSantis says he's leaving the decision up to local communities.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is refusing to close his state's beaches, despite the fact that thousands are crowding the coastline for spring break against government-issued guidance to avoid large gatherings amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We've seen some big crowds on the west coast of Florida and I've had a chance to speak to mayors on both coasts today," DeSantis said Tuesday. "If … they want to continue to [leave the beach open], we want them to have the freedom to do that, but we also want them to have the freedom to do more if they see fit."

Images of a packed beach in Clearwater, Florida, led to uproar this week, as the beachgoers, many of them young people on spring break, were clearly not adhering to the social distancing measures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Monday, the CDC advised against gatherings of 10 or more people, warning that there were just 15 days to stop the spread of the virus.

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But DeSantis said he won't be ordering those beaches closed, leaving the decision up to local authorities.

DeSantis defended that decision on "Fox & Friends" — Donald Trump's preferred media program — Thursday morning.

The governor said the images of crowded beaches were from before the CDC changed its guidance to allowing groups of just 10 or less.

"I would point out though guys, the images from Clearwater were from Saturday," DeSantis said. "At that point the CDC guidance was groups of 250 or more, then on Sunday they changed it to 50, and so we were looking at locals to try and figure out OK, what makes sense for us on a whole variety of things. And then the next day on Monday, they changed it to the 10, and so that's at that point we need to steer clear of any large groups and so we did it for the beaches and we for the bars, we closed the bars down."

Associated Press images from as recently as Wednesday, March 18, however, show gatherings much larger than 10 people at Clearwater Beach, with little to no social distancing, as the CDC has recommended.

Meanwhile, fellow Florida Republicans have urged DeSantis to shutter the beaches altogether.

"I think they ought to do everything they can to stop people from being on the beach," Sen. Rick Scott, who served as governor before DeSantis, said on CNN Thursday morning.

"They outta make sure that the only way you can go on the beach is if you're gonna be on there by yourself," he added. "...What are you thinking being on the beach around all these people that might have coronavirus? And you're gonna go home and potentially infect the people you love the most? What are you thinking? Stop doing it, now."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.