Thursday morning began bright and early with the Bay County Commission Meeting at 8:00 am and continued with a Panama City Beach Council Meeting at 9:00 am. Both meetings were called to address the closure of all Panama City Beaches during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thursday both the County Commission and the Panama City Beach City Council voted to re-open the beaches.
Bay County Commission
Commissioner Tommy Hamm began the discussion for the County by saying “I’m for re-opening the beaches 24/7”. He continued by saying “Florida, and the United States for that matter, are just too big, too bureaucratic, and too slow, and we can’t just sit back and wait for them”. Commissioner Robert Carroll spoke of Governor DeSantis’ press conference on Wednesday titled Safe, Smart, Step-by- Step, Plan to Florida’s Recovery. “Our Governor is taking a cautious approach, and for that I’m grateful. I’m cautious about opening this up to fast”. He read the governors order continuing the prohibition of vacation rentals during this time. Carroll finished by saying “I just don’t want to blow our summer, because we went to fast”. The County chose to seek guidance from the Governor’s office on the opening of beach services on beach. The Commission voted 5-0 to for the re-opening.
Governor DeSantis’ Press Conference
Governor DeSantis’ press conference Wednesday outlined phase one of re-opening commerce in the State of Florida. Florida Restaurants are able to re-open at an indoor capacity of 25% and outdoor sitting arrangements must be at least 6 feet apart. In the same order he allowed commercial retail to re-open they must also meet the 25% of capacity rule. He specifically did not lift the ban on short term vacation rentals in the State. This restriction will stay in place for the until the Governor lifts the restriction. Hotels and Motels are considered essential services under the Presidential Guidelines and were adopted by the Governor, therefore hotels and motels are open for business.
Panama City Beach City Council
The City of Panama City Beach listened to public comment on both sides, for re-opening the beaches and for keeping them closed. Councilman Paul Casto started the conversation for the beach meeting “I believe opening our beaches with social distancing, and no more than 10 people in a group is in line with the Governors re-opening plan”. He continued “If you’re at risk, stay at home”. Councilman Geoff McConnell who rode the beach on a four-wheeler last week said he was proud of those walking the beach “everyone was social distancing and following the guidelines, and that’s a good thing” he said. The beach ordinance does address beach services saying those services could resume. Legal counsel reading the ordinance said the order by the Governor covered out door activity and since beach services are outside, this service should resume. Mayor Mark Sheldon closed by saying he is in favor of opening the beaches reminding visitors and residents to follow social distancing guidelines. “If we care for each other as much as we care for ourselves, we will be fine” he said. The council voted 5-0 for the re-opening.
All beaches in Bay County will re-open at 12:01 am Friday May the 1st.