“The more we hold the line now, the sooner we can put and end to this thing.”

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DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson is urging county residents to strictly abide by a statewide “stay-at-home” order and the local closure of public and private beaches, all aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19, the serious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

►RELATED: CORONAVIRUS: Walton sheriff addresses potential loosening of COVID-19 restrictions

Taking that approach, Adkinson said, could bring an end to those restrictions sooner rather than later.

“The more we hold the line now, the sooner we can put and end to this thing,” Adkinson said Thursday during “Sheriff Live,” a now-weekly interactive livestream broadcast carried on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social media pages.

►RELATED: (June 2019): Rumors of the death of Sheriff Adkinson’s relative are greatly exaggerated

Currently, the local ordinance closing both public and private beaches in the county — subject of an upcoming Monday federal court hearing in a lawsuit filed by some private beachfront property owners — is scheduled to remain in effect until April 30, although the Walton County Board of County Commissioners has retained the right to extend those closures.

On a statewide basis, an executive order signed earlier this month by Gov. Ron DeSantis limiting public movement, and closing all but essential businesses and activities, also is set to expire on April 30, but could be amended or extended.

But judging from questions presented to Adkinson during the Thursday evening livestream, residents are antsy for beaches to reopen, at least for people who live in the county.

Adkinson poured some cold water on those wishes, saying it would be “almost impractical” to devise a system for differentiating local residents from visitors, particularly given the short time frame to the currently expected expiration of the state and local edicts.

“There’s really no way to open just to locals right now,” Adkinson said, noting that doing so would require some sort of identification program.

“If we had a little bit of time, we could do it,” the sheriff said. But, he added, “I think your beaches are going to open fairly quickly.”

Adkinson also took questions from people concerned about the out-of-state license plates, some of them from places that, like Florida, have “stay at home” orders in place, that are being seen on local roadways.

“You can’t just start stopping people because they have a different license plate from other states,” Adkinson said.

The sheriff went on to explain that some people from outside Florida — people who have second homes in the county, and people who rented accommodations before a two-week statewide ban on vacation rentals became effective on March 28 — are allowed to be in the county.

“You may see them,” Adkinson said, “and they’re probably violating their (own state’s) stay-at-home order, which is not enforceable in Florida.” More than 40 states and the District of Colombia have instituted some type of stay-at-home order.

“We have certainly asked them not to come,” Adkinson said, at the same time asking citizens not to report spotting an out-of-state tage to the sheriff’s office.

“Don’t call because you seen an Illinois tag,” the sheriff said.

But, with a nod to local residents’ concerns about out-of-state people coming into the county, the sheriff said, “There’s a big difference between what you can do and what you should do. ... If they’ve come down here now, they know that they shouldn’t be here.”

In other developments Thursday, Adkinson said that in addition to closing the beaches, the county recently had to take the extra step of closing public beach accesses. The reason, he said, was that people were congregating at those access points, creating the very proximity, and potential for COVID-19 spread, that closing the beaches was designed to control.

“People were setting up in the parking lots,” the sheriff said.

Also Thursday, Adkinson announced that he will be using $20,000 in drug forfeiture funds to purchase masks for distribution to at least part of the general public to help arrest the spread of COVID-19. The sheriff asked residents who could afford masks not to take advantage of the free masks, to leave them available for people who might not be able to afford that protection.

As Thursday’s “Sheriff Live” wound down, Adkinson pointed to the relatively low number of COVID-19 cases reported in Walton County as evidence that the state and local restrictions are working locally to control spread of the disease. As of late Friday morning, there were 27 COVID-19 cases reported in the county.

“It’s pretty clearly worked here,” Adkinson said. “... (L)et’s do this and try to do it right, and not quibble about the details.”

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