Were Florida Residents Spotted Packing Beaches During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Claim

Florida residents kept congregating at local beaches in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rating

True

Reporting

A photograph of beachgoers ignoring social distancing guidelines concerning the COVID-19 pandemic prompted local officials to close their gathering place to the public.

The photo, attributed to Clay Archer of Jacksonville Beach, was shared thousands of times on Twitter after being posted there by Travis Akers, a spokesperson for Democratic Party congressional candidate Donna Deegan, on March 28 2020.

“You can see exactly where Duval County ends and St. John’s County begins,” Akers wrote. “All beaches in Duval are closed, while St. John’s only blocked parking at the beach. Gov. [Ron] DeSantis needs to order a state-wide closure of all Florida beaches.”

The photograph showed a cluster of people on the St. John’s side of the county line on a beach, while the beach was empty on the Duval County side:

We contacted the St. John’s County board of commissioners seeking comment about the photograph. But scores of residents were spotted going to beaches in the area, to the point that local officials ordered that they be closed to the public as of March 29 2020.

“We have taken as many measures as possible up to this point to preserve our residents’ ability to access their beach,” county administrator Hunter S. Conrad said in a statement:

Unfortunately, those visiting the beach continue to ignore CDC guidelines regarding crowd size and personal distancing. In order to maintain public safety and respect the State of Florida’s Executive Order, we had no choice but to close the coastline to public access today.

A day after the beaches were closed in St. John’s County, Florida’s governor announced an executive order mandating that residents in four southeast Florida counties — Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach — remain at home until “the middle of May.” According to the Miami Herald, the four counties account for a combined 59 percent of all COVID-19 diagnoses in the state. DeSantis has also ordered that travelers into the state from Louisiana and New York undergo fourteen-day quarantines.

DeSantis — a supporter of United States President Donald Trump — has benefited from a comparatively swift federal response to the spread of the disease. As the Washington Post reported:

The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later, according to figures from the state’s Division of Emergency Management. It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.

By comparison, Trump has insinuated that healthcare workers facing massive equipment shortage in New York City were stealing protective masks. And California’s governor Gavin Newsom said on March 28, 2020 that 170 ventilators that the state received from the Trump administration had to be repaired because they “were not working” when they arrived. Both Newsom and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are Democrats.