ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. >> The Fourth of July holiday weekend began today with some sobering numbers in the Sunshine State: Florida logged a record number of people testing positive for the coronavirus.
State health officials reported 11,445 new cases, a single-day record. The latest count brings the total number of cases in the state to 190,052. A website maintained by the Department of Health shows an additional 245 hospitalizations from the outbreak.
Local officials and health experts are worried that people will gather over this July 4 holiday weekend and spread the virus through close contact. They’ve tried to mitigate spread by shutting bars statewide. Some regional attractions, such as Zoo Miami and Jungle Island, have closed. Universal Studios in Orlando is open.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez closed Miami-Dade County beaches through the July 4 holiday weekend. Municipalities elsewhere in South Florida, from Vero Beach to Broward County, did the same. Beaches in the Florida Keys are also closed. Public beaches along Pinellas County’s 35 miles of sand are open.
On St. Pete Beach on Saturday afternoon, parking spaces were scarce as people flocked to the wide strip of sand on the Gulf of Mexico.
On the beach, hundreds of people clustered in groups under umbrellas and in cabanas. Deputies from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office patrolled the sand on ATVs, telling people to stay with their own families or groups and away from others.
“We’re going to social distance,” said Keisha Pereira, who came to the beach from Osceola County, closer to Orlando. She was with her daughter and two other children and said they were armed with hand sanitizer and masks in case they decide to go anywhere other than the beach. “We’re going to stay with each other. I feel pretty safe outside.”
In Jupiter, along Florida’s east coast, people boarded their boats to enjoy the Fourth of July on the water.
Kim Stone, a Jupiter resident, said she was happy to be outdoors.
“I think it’s great. Family, friends get some fresh air with everything that’s going on in our country,” she said. “We are doing our social distancing like we’re supposed to be. … It’s nice after quarantining for so long and afraid to go anywhere. You can’t get better than fresh air and out on the water.”