Opening with caution

Editor & Publisher

As Florida reopens to business, Longboat Key, the City of Sarasota and the counties are all arriving at strategies on what to open and when.

This week, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County hosted two more rounds of community-based testing in North Sarasota testing almost 150 patients, and another has already been announced for Tuesday, May 5 at Robert L. Taylor Community Complex. The same rules will apply to be tested: You must work in a health care setting or currently be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell). You also must have an appointment. To make one, please call 941-861-2883 Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. While it is designated as a drive-thru site, walkers and bicyclists can be accommodated.

In many instances they do not all agree. Perhaps most significant is on Monday, May 4, restaurants will be allowed to open throughout the region with strict stipulations. Outside dining will be allowed with six feet of separation between tables. Inside dining will be allowed to a maximum of 25 percent of the seating capacity.

Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer said restaurants must strictly abide by these rules and the town will investigate and make sure they are in compliance. He said it could be a second-degree misdemeanor or end up reported to a licensing agency if a restaurant is found in violation.

Bar seating in restaurants as well as bars in general, will remain closed.


Oceans apart

The restaurant policy emanates directly from the Governor’s Order. Conversely, beaches and the opening of public beaches are regulated by municipality and the counties and each is doing something different.

On Monday, Manatee County will open its public beaches, but limit beachgoers via a two-hour parking permit. Violators will face ticketing.

Sarasota County is opening its beaches as well on Monday, and will not restrict parking and is not imposing a time limit. Both counties are requiring that beachgoers do utilize social distancing and limit groups to less than 10 people.

Longboat Key never closed its beaches, but did close all public beach parking in the early stages of the pandemic. It is not changing this policy for the time being.

The City of Sarasota has both closed its beaches on Lido Key as well as all beach parking and City Manager Tom Barwin plans to continue to hold that policy in effect. In a press release on Friday, Barwin made clear that the City is looking at Center for Disease Control (CDC) data and the availability of COVID-19 testing as factors in when it plans to reopen the beaches and other recreational facilities.

“I want to give us some time. One of the reasons we are being careful is we do not want to encourage social gathering,” said Harmer.

Harmer also added the fact that the City is not opening its beaches on Lido impacts his decision to not open beach parking on Longboat. Longboat Key has limited amount of beach parking and the City beaches on Lido Key are expansive with more than 1,000 parking spaces between South Lido, the main Lido Beach and north Lido Beach. Part of the concern is if the City remains closed, beachgoers will migrate to the County or Longboat to gain access.

When it comes to recreation, Sarasota County is opening its tennis courts and other park amenities in the coming days. The City of Sarasota said it will continue to keep its public tennis courts and park amenities closed until further notice. Longboat Key is also keeping its hard courts and pickle ball courts closed at Bayfront Park.

Harmer did say that on May 8, the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center will start allowing singles play with spacing of every other court being utilized. He said additional controls will be put in place and announced in the coming days.

The Governor also is allowing retail businesses to reopen with the caveat that only 25 percent capacity in the store at any time, as well as social distancing measures.

Fitness centers, gyms, nightclubs, and other services that are non-essential will remain closed.

Harmer said if the data continues to be positive and improve, there will be another phase or maybe two, of reopenings.

Longboat Key has gone yet another week with no new cases of COVID-19 reported. This marks a month without a single reported case on the island.

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