Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is closing in on a plan to allow parks, marinas and golf courses to reopen, but beaches will have to wait.
“I’ve seen a lot of buzz on social media from people who think beaches in Miami-Dade County are opening up,” Gimenez tweeted just after 3 p.m. Sunday. “This is not the case. Although we’re consulting with medical experts on the future opening of public spaces, there is currently no timeline for opening beaches.”
Three local mayors said earlier Sunday that Gimenez told them beaches wouldn’t be part of a pending plan to end closures of parks and other recreational facilities under a new set of restrictions aimed at reducing close contact by people. Gimenez’s office announced a Facebook and Twitter question-and-answer session 4 p.m. Monday on reopening “parks” and “waterways” under certain conditions.
Beaches are “probably going to be the last thing that’s reopened with regard to open spaces,” Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey said in a video posted to social media.
The apparent timeline tracks with what Gimenez and aides have discussed over the past week. They’ve said parks, boat ramps and golf courses are seen as low risk for COVID-19 transmission provided some new restrictions are obeyed, but it’s far more daunting to try and prevent the large number of people bound to flock to reopened beaches.
“We would be extremely concerned about opening up our beaches to throngs of folks coming from everywhere,” said Miami Beach Dan Gelber, who said he spoke to Gimenez twice over the weekend. “And you really can’t limit your beaches. You can’t just say, ‘Residents only.’ ”
One approach being considered is a ban on beach chairs, said Aventura Mayor Enid Weisman, who was on a Sunday call with mayors of coastal cities and Gimenez. That would mean beaches could be used for walking and running, but not for sunbathing or congregating in groups, she said.
The coastal mayors also discussed the need for a coordinated effort at the city level, so that residents don’t all flock to a single beach while others are still closed. That issue came up last month when Miami Beach closed its beaches, Weisman said, prompting people to go north to Haulover Park instead.
“You close one beach and they all run to the open beach,” she said. “We’re looking for some coordination and consensus building.”
Gimenez’s roll-out of looser COVID-19 restrictions follows a limited reopening of beaches in Jacksonville that raised concerns about crowds. It also comes during pressure from the White House and conservative circles to end the strict rules closing businesses and limiting commerce.
For now, the Gimenez effort appears to be focused on rewriting restrictions on recreation that would still be appropriate during ongoing community spread of COVID-19. Parks would reopen, but with restrictions designed to keep visitors six feet apart from each other. People walking on paths may be required to wear masks, sports would be banned and swing sets closed.
Instead of boat ramps and marinas being closed, new county rules would limit the number of people who could use docks and be onboard at the same time and ban raft-ups — social gatherings on the water. Golf courses could open, but with bans on golf-cart passengers and tweaks on the course to reduce contact with flat surfaces (like pool noodles in holes to make balls easier to retrieve).
At a news conference Friday, Gimenez said he’s ready to lift restrictions, meaning Monday’s meeting could be the final step before announcing changes. “I don’t have a time frame yet,” he said. “I want it to be as soon as possible. As soon as we can do it, I want to start easing these restrictions.”
A turn for the worse in Miami-Dade’s COVID-19 measures, such as deaths, hospitalization rates or cases, could derail that effort. But people who have spoken to Gimenez describe him as confident the parks plan represents a low-risk easing of rules.
The next phase, of beaches and eventually businesses, promises to be far more challenging and complicated. COVID-19 testing remains limited, so health authorities don’t know how far the disease is spreading, and governments and businesses still can’t get the protective gear they need for workers.
Lifting restrictions on parks, boat ramps and other recreational facilities could get complicated if cities decline to follow county rules. While Gimenez’s emergency orders carry the weight of law within city limits, municipalities can impose stricter rules. That could lead to the county mayor declaring parks open, while cities step in and close theirs.
Davey, the Key Biscayne mayor, noted the village already has an order closing parks that would remain if Gimenez lifts the countywide closure order. “When the county’s order is lifted, we’ll have to evaluate what our order is and if we’re going to make any changes to that,” he said.
The planned reopening of parks and recreational options across Miami-Dade promises to test the ability to enforce how residents enjoy themselves outdoors after weeks of closures.
In his video Sunday, Davey criticized residents for being “out and about.”
“I’m seeing way too many kids running around without face masks,” he said. “Running around together. No social distancing. We’ve got to be better about that.”