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Panama City Beach and Bay County Close Beaches

Panama City Beach

Days after college students on spring break in Panama City Beach ignored warnings from public health officials to avoid congregating in large groups, local elected leaders closed the sandy beaches to help protect residents from community spread of COVID-19. 

“Right now, people are not listening. They’re not adhering to the advice of the entire world," said Bay County Commissioner Robert Carroll. “We need to step up. We need to do the right thing. We need to ask them to go back to their communities. Take care of their communities. We need to take care of ours.”


Bay County commissioners voted unanimously on Friday to close the unincorporated areas of the beach. The vote came hours after Panama City Beach City Council members passed an ordinance to close the sandy beaches within its jurisdiction. The restriction takes effect immediately and lasts for seven days. Local elected officials will revisit the measure in a week. 


The move comes after beaches were closed in several other spring break destinations, including Miami, Tampa and Clearwater. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed an executive order directing Broward and Palm Beach Counties to close their beaches. 


"This has been the hardest decision we've ever faced as a commission," County Commissioner Philip Griffitts said. That's because the beach tourism industry comprises a third of the economy, he said. 


"This is the beach hurricane," he said. "They were spared, and now it's landed in their lap." 

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.