The Walton County Sheriff’s Office will be enforcing the executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus, but will be looking for voluntary compliance rather than harder-edged enforcement.
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SEASIDE — On top of their usual vacation-season workload, Walton County deputies now will be enforcing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Tuesday mandates for reducing density and crowds in restaurants, bars and beaches.
The governor’s executive order is designed to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new virus.
In that executive order, DeSantis directed people using the state’s public beaches to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, as recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
The executive order also closes bars and nightclubs for 30 days, and directs restaurants to limit seating to 50 percent of capacity, providing a separation of at least 6 feet between seated patrons.
Enforcing all of that along and near Walton County’s massively popular beaches will fall on the Sheriff’s Office, spokeswoman Corey Dobridnia explained Wednesday.
The Sheriff’s Office, while "already stretched thin" has "a lot of partners" within local government and tourism agencies in connection with addressing DeSantis’ executive order, Dobridnia said.
In particular, Dobridnia noted actions taken by resort communities along beachside County Road 30A to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, and by individual businesses across the county.
The community of Seaside has, for example, closed its private beaches and will be shutting down its commercial district, with the exception of food-service establishments offering only to-go service, on Saturday. Beaches and affected businesses will remain closed until April 30.
Elsewhere along 30A, WaterColor has canceled a number of events, as has Rosemary Beach, and Alys Beach has instituted a 10 p.m. curfew for minors.
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Dobridnia said Walton County deputies will be looking for voluntary compliance rather than adopting a harder-edged enforcement policy.
"We’re not an agency that’s going to start dragging people away in cuffs," Dobridnia said Wednesday. "We’re not going to be hauling anyone off to jail."
But at the same time, Dobridnia said, deputies "are going to be diligent" with enforcement of the governor’’s coronavirus mandates. Some of that enforcement could be tricky, Dobridnia indicated, due to recent changes in state statutory language regarding the definition of a bar.
"We’re just asking people to use common sense," she said.
And, Dobridnia said, the nature of the governor’s mandate, aimed at preventing the spread of disease, has the potential to put deputies in some jeopardy regarding their own health.
"We’re got to try to protect our own," she said.
Among the deputies who will be working to seek compliance with the governor’s executive order is Lt. Johnny Jordan.
On Tuesday, before the terms of the executive order were widely known, Jordan and other deputies were in Seaside, watching as crowds of mostly young people, with no immediate beach access, walked and congregated along 30A.
"We’re just kind of playing it by ear," Jordan said. "Just working through it."