Parking locked down, law enforcement heeds coronavirus

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People social distance May 23 on the beach at Bayfront Park, 316 N. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, where the Anna Maria City Pier stands out in the background. Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies patrol the county-maintained park. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

State and local officials are working on ways to balance public safety with reopening.

The health and safety of law enforcement officers also must be prioritized as beaches and businesses reopen on Anna Maria Island.

As of May 28, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office reported one employee tested positive for coronavirus, according to Randy Warren, MCSO public information officer. He said several other employees were isolated for exposure after contact with people outside of work who tested positive.

Warren also said that since the start of the pandemic, deputies were equipped with hand sanitizer, masks and gloves and use personal protective equipment according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when in contact with the public.

They also keep a distance from other MCSO employees.

“Our deputies are asking questions when making arrests and with people they are coming into close proximity with,” Warren said. “We are taking temperatures at the beginning of each shift to ensure employees are not symptomatic before entering our various facilities.”

MCSO deputies who patrol county beaches — Coquina and Cortez beaches in Bradenton Beach, Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach and Bayfront Park in Anna Maria — have added responsibilities to ensure people maintain social distancing of 6 feet and gather in groups no larger than 10 people.

Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach police officers also are following CDC guidelines and wearing PPE in some situations.

After being closed for nearly two months, parking was fully opened at the county-run beaches before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Most beach-access parking in Anna Maria remained closed and the city raised its parking fine from $35 to $100 under a temporary emergency order.

Holmes Beach continued closure of all beach access, on-street and right-of-way parking, with plans to reopen with fewer than 2,000 spots about mid-June.

The city had been considering eliminating most right-of-way and beach-access parking to reduce day-tripper overflow into neighborhoods and used the COVID-19 closure to determine which spaces to keep closed after reopening, according to Holmes Beach Chief Bill Tokajer.

At a May 28 teleconferenced city meeting, Sgt. Brett Getman of the MCSO-Anna Maria substation, told the mayor and commissioners that many people from neighboring counties with closed or restricted beaches visited the island Memorial Day weekend, but there were no issues with parking or compliance.

Getman commended Mayor Dan Murphy for the parking ticket increase and additional temporary “no parking” signs as a way to manage the surplus of motorists and vehicles.

“Obviously, with the right-of-way parking being closed in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach, I think the mayor has done a really good job in trying to curb that aspect of the beachgoers coming up to Anna Maria,” Getman said.

Tokajer said May 28 that the city opted to keep its parking closed because new COVID-19 cases still were reported daily in the county, even though the percentage of positive cases had dropped.

He said social distancing was not feasible at the public beach when the parking lot was full. But with all other public parking closed, it has not been a concern for the city.

“We kept our parking closed because we felt the county opened too soon,” Tokajer said. “So, for the sake of our visitors, which we now have much more of, our residents and law enforcement, we are doing what we can to promote awareness, create a safe environment and stop the spread.”