Beaches to Close for Fourth of July Weekend, South Florida’s Vocal Minority, and More

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Red Reef Beach in Boca Raton. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

Boca Raton is officially relieved that Palm Beach County closed beaches over the Fourth of July weekend.

Councilwoman Monica Mayotte said Monday that it “absolutely” was the right decision. Councilman Andy Thomson said, “It had to happen.” The closure is in effect Friday through Sunday.

New COVID-19 cases in Florida spiked last week, to a high of nearly 10,000 on Saturday. Though Gov. DeSantis had tried to explain away the rising numbers as the result of more testing, he eventually acknowledged that the main problem is lack of social distancing and mask wearing.

Some businesses also have failed to follow the rules. After saying that he would not backtrack, DeSantis ordered all bars re-closed to everything except curbside service.

Such non-compliance has been especially prevalent among young people. They would be most likely to hit the beach over a weekend with predicted highs in the mid-90s.

On Saturday, Miami-Dade became the first South Florida county to issue the temporary closure. Broward followed on Sunday. If Palm Beach County had stayed open, Boca Raton and Delray Beach could have faced a crush of visitors and the prospect of super spreads.

Thus the reaction from Mayotte and Thomson. Delray Beach City Commissioner Ryan Boylston also approved. Though Boca Raton has more beachside parks, Delray Beach could have faced its own additional problem, with people parking in public spots and then spilling into restaurants on A1A and Atlantic Avenue.

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer struck a good tone when I asked for his reaction:

“I don’t think ‘pleased’ is an apt word. No one should be pleased that the virus necessitates further protective steps. I would say that I support the decision as necessary.

Mayor Scott Singer

“As we saw before, there are concerns about the ability to maintain safety on our beaches and also roadways and access for emergency vehicles if we had a large influx of beachgoers from Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Once those counties announced their plans, it was clear that our county had a need to again address these concerns by temporarily reducing access.”

Singer said he spoke with County Mayor Dave Kerner on Sunday. “While this is inconvenient for a weekend,” Singer said, “I hope people can understand the county’s temporary measure in light of the ongoing pandemic and the substantial impact it continues to pose.”

Phase 2 will have to wait

Given Florida’s record-setting case numbers, DeSantis likely won’t allow Palm Beach County to enter Phase 2 of reopening anytime soon. Under Phase 2, stores, restaurants and gyms can operate at 75 percent of capacity.

The governor got the county’s request more than two weeks ago. All of the state except Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade previously got to enter Phase 2.

Beach permits

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Red Reef Park in Boca Raton. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

Speaking of beaches, demand for permits in Boca Raton rose dramatically after beach parks reopened.

Before the COVID-19 restrictions, roughly 13,300 people had permits. Those are almost all residents of the city and areas outside the city that are part of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District. Roughly 1,200 parking spots are at Spanish River and Red Reef parks. Another 241 are at South Beach Park, which also is open to residents of the county.

Since May 26, a spokeswoman said, Boca Raton has sold 1,743 permits. If that demand held for a year, there would be roughly 21,000 permits.

Hospitals not overwhelmed

boca regional

For now, the new virus cases aren’t straining hospitals in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration tracker, intensive-care bed availability is roughly one-third at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, West Boca Medical Center and Delray Medical Center. The crunch is at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach – roughly four percent availability – and Wellington Regional Medical Center – roughly six percent.

The vocal minority

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Thomson said those who don’t understand the pandemic are a “very vocal minority.” They were beyond vocal at last week’s county commission meeting. They were nutty bordering on dangerous.

At issue was the ordinance, which the commission approved unanimously, to require masks in most public places. It brought out some opponents who, ahem, undercut their credibility with their “arguments.” In the process, they made Palm Beach County look ridiculous.

One woman said Health Department Director Alina Alonso would face arrest for “crimes against humanity.” Now you can see why roughly two dozen public health officials around the county have resigned over the last few weeks as public impatience over restrictions has increased and too many politicians have undercut the experts.

As in May, when the commission discussed whether to reopen businesses and beaches, the anti-vaccination crowd showed up. One woman invoked the anti-vaxxer motto: “Where there is a risk, there must be a choice.” What is the supposed “risk” of wearing a mask?

The lowest of many lowlights came when a woman claimed that she didn’t wear a mask for the same reason she didn’t wear underwear: “Things gotta breathe.”

Once a video of the craziest comments got out, Commissioner Robert Weinroth said he began getting interview requests from the British Broadcasting Corporation. Perhaps the BBC wanted him to explain this strange tribe. He declined the request.

“It’s not the way,” Weinroth said, “that I wanted to see Palm Beach County back on the worldwide stage.”

By the way, November marks the 20th anniversary of the “butterfly ballot.”

Housing market improves

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Realtors and all those in South Florida who rely on the housing market got good news on Monday.

Pending homes increased 44.3 percent in May, well above expectations. Though sales for the year remain about 5 percent below 2019 levels, Wells Fargo believes that the market is “fully on the path to recovery.”

Rodgers to take leave

Councilman Jeremy Rodgers

Boca Raton City Councilman Jeremy Rodgers will be absent with official leave starting in August.

Rodgers, who serves in the Navy Reserve, announced at last week’s meeting that he had been called to active duty. Rodgers said he will be posted to Afghanistan. State law, correctly, allows him to continue on the council.

Thomson & wife expecting

Rodgers’ colleague, Andy Thomson, will become a father for the fifth time.

Thomson told me that his wife, Joanna, is expected to give birth in December. The Thomsons have three daughters. This will be their second son. His arrival will put Thomson one up on Rodgers, also the father of four.

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