Beaches at Panama City Beach officially reopen
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PANAMA CITY BEACH — Crowds flocked to the Gulf on Friday as beaches across Bay County reopened after more than a month of being closed.
While many beachgoers were residents who felt like the day was long overdue, others visitors were from neighboring counties where beaches are still on lock down.
“It’s just nice to see people having a great time and being able to walk and enjoy the ocean air,” said Janet Slusser, a Missouri resident with a house in Rosemary Beach.
Slusser, who wished that Walton County would have followed Bay County’s lead on the issue, added that she came to Florida to wait out the cornonavirus storm.
For her, now is the perfect time for coastal areas to ease into reopening their beaches since Florida’s ban on short-term rentals is still in effect.
“It will be wonderful once Walton also follows suit, which I hope will be May 1,” Slusser said. “I don’t think anyone knows what the right or wrong answer is, but I do think that if people adhere to the rules and the guidelines, I think that it’s a good thing.”
Other visitors, including Niceville’s Dominic Annichiarico, agreed that a short trek to PCB is well worth some time in the sun.
“After being crammed in the house all day, it just felt refreshing,” said Annichiarico, who added that Okaloosa County beaches are still closed too. “It felt like a breath of fresh air.”
He, along with many others, visited the coast around the Russell-Fields Pier on Friday to catch some waves.
“It was pretty good, I’m not going to lie,” Annichiarico said on the day’s swells. “It was a little tough, but hey, that’s what we come out here for.”
For other beachgoers like Dolan Poole, a Panama City Beach resident, the partial reopening of the beach is great. However, he looks forward to the day where all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Currently, Bay County beaches are only open from 6-9 a.m. and 5-8 p.m each day.
“I just really hope the virus thing goes away quick because I’m ready for the beaches to be back open completely,” Poole said. “That’s the reason why people live here.”
While he acknowledged the potential risk of the coronavirus being spread back to the area once tourists return, he believes keeping the beaches open should be treated the same as when dealing with grocery stores and parks.
“I think they should have been reopened a long time ago,” he added. “I just think that if you can go to the store and you can be that close to people, why not be able to go to the beach?”