Floridians avoid the beaches as state racks up record numbers of coronavirus cases

Surging numbers of coronavirus cases in Florida had many wary of flocking to beaches Saturday as many stayed home and most spread out from one another.

A typical weekend in late June would see street parking filled up and throngs of people at the end of Minuteman Causeway in Cocoa Beach. On Saturday, however, nearly all of the few hundred people at the popular beach spot were camped out in small groups with plenty of distance between them.

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A typical sight along Brevard County beaches from Cape Canaveral to the Melbourne Beach area Saturday was parking lots crowded with cars while people on the beaches themselves maintained physical distance.

Cocoa Beach Mayor Ben Malik said he had concerns about crowds flocking to the beach but also believes fresh air and sunshine is much-needed as long as people take precautions.

"My personal opinion is the beach is such a wide spot that people can stay distanced," Malik said.

Although state and local restrictions on beaches and businesses might stop some spread, people must ultimately be responsible for themselves, Malik added.

"At the end of the day it's impossible for the government to regulate common sense or we'll be accused of some 5G conspiracy nonsense."

Malik counted himself as somewhat of a coronavirus skeptic until a friend in his 50s recently died after developing COVID-19. He hopes people who come from other areas to Cocoa Beach will do the right thing and wear masks and stay distanced.

Saturday brought with it near-record heat and new record numbers of coronavirus cases in Brevard County on the east coast of central Florida. The newest batch of 250 cases shattered the previous day's record 148 new cases. Florida as a whole continued to climb with 9,585 new coronavirus cases Saturday.

In a reversal, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut recently imposed restrictions on travelers from Florida and other states where the transmission rate is high. The number of new cases in the Northeast has been dropping while Florida's rise.

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Not all interstate travel was restricted or stopped and not everyone was as concerned or scared of crossing state lines.

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Marty Davis was with a small group of friends visiting Cocoa Beach from Philadelphia, an area that has seen its case numbers drop in recent weeks.

"We're from Philly. I feel like as long as you do your due diligence, you're fine. Wash your hands, wear your mask, wipe down your stuff. I see the people who live down here don't even wear" masks, he said.

They chose the beach because they can maintain distance and aren't enclosed with other people indoors.

"The way we look at it, with how it's dropping in Philly and we're following procedure," we feel safe, Davis said.

"It's a Philly thing," he said to explain his fearlessness over the coronavirus.

Beachgoers enjoy the sun and sand eat Shepard Park in Cocoa Beach Saturday afternoon, June 27, 2020. Mandatory Credit: Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK
Beachgoers enjoy the sun and sand eat Shepard Park in Cocoa Beach Saturday afternoon, June 27, 2020. Mandatory Credit: Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK

Brevard residents James and Courtnie Smith figured a quick swim in the ocean would be a good way to cool off in the 90-degree weather. They had just come from the Cocoa Beach skate park down the road.

The couple stood in the shade of a lifeguard station away from any other groups of people and said they aren't too concerned because they've been staying to themselves as much as possible when out and doing what they can to stay safe.

"As long as everyone stays safe and keeps their distance," Courtnie said, there's not much more people can do.

"We've been dealing with it quite some time now, so we're starting to loosen up a bit but still wearing masks, of course," James added.

Although Brevard County has no plans to limit access to beaches, other areas of Florida do. In Miami, which already saw large surges of coronavirus, officials plan to close beaches for the July Fourth weekend.

Beachgoers enjoy the sun and sand in Cocoa Beach on June 27.
Beachgoers enjoy the sun and sand in Cocoa Beach on June 27.

Although many at the beach Saturday were maintaining distance and not crowding, Mayor Malik said there are still pockets of people who are ignoring Centers for Disease Control recommendations when it comes to the coronavirus.

"We need people to do the right thing, and it's so incredibly frustrating," he said. "A walk on the beach, a jog, a surf, a swim. All of those things are good for you. It's not necessarily a death sentence."

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But for those still partying on the beach with social distancing, he had a question.

"Do you want to be in that percentage that doesn't make it or gives it to a family member? I don't."

Contact Vazquez at tvazquez@floridatoday.com, 321-917-7491 or on Twitter @tyler_vazquez. Support his work by subscribing to FloridaToday.com.

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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Fewer people flocking to Florida beaches as COVID-19 cases surge