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Panama City Beach and the Florida Keys announce beach closures amid coronavirus pandemic

AP

The Florida Keys and Panama City Beach announced they would restrict access to beaches in an attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus, following a trend set by other local governments in the state.

Starting Sunday at 6 p.m., the Florida Keys will temporarily close to visitors as coronavirus continues to spread throughout the state, according to a news release from the Keys.

Not only will the beach close, so will hotels and other lodging properties. The announcement comes after the island chain found its first confirmed case of coronavirus, which was announced late Thursday.

“We understand that this is a tremendous inconvenience to our visitors as well as to our businesses, and more than an inconvenience to our workers — our families who live here,” said Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers. “But the health and safety of both our visitors and our residents is paramount.”

Panama City Beach will also be closing, starting Friday at 7 p.m., following a unanimous decision from the city council. The closure is expected until March 26, a news release from the city council said.

On March 26, the Panama City Beach City Council will meet again to decide whether to extend the closure.

The news is significant, particularly for a state that relies heavily on tourism.

The Florida Keys’ tourism industry, for example, generated more than $1.8 billion for the islands’ economy in 2018, the news release stated. It also supports more than 26,000 jobs in the area.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic has continued to spread across the country, with some areas going under lockdown, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has faced increasing pressure to order a statewide closure of all beaches.

Tourism, though, brings in more than $40 billion a year, and DeSantis has been hesitant, instead deferring to local municipalities to decide whether to close.

Officials in Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa have already issued mandates to restrict beach access. Authorities in Miami Beach have also specifically ordered all hotels to shut down and all guests and renters to be evacuated by Monday.

US Sen. Rick Scott of Florida had a direct message to spring breakers: “Get off the beach.”

“Unless you can figure out how to completely be isolated from anybody else, I mean, this is — individuals have to take responsibility and every, every level of government has to be very clear, don’t be on the beach unless you can be somehow completely by yourself,” the former governor said Thursday on CNN’s “New Day.”

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