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Collier County planning how, when to start reopening public places

Many of us want to know when caution tape at Southwest Florida public beaches will come down. Collier County is home to some of those popular beaches, and it’s working to see when is the right time to start opening back up in a safe manner.

A new Collier County task force says it’s working to determine when it will be possible to open up public beaches again amid the coronavirus pandemic. We also spoke to county commissioners and how they feel about the process and the timing.

People are hitting the sand in other parts of the state, but Commissioner Penny Taylor says these decisions cannot be made too quickly in our region. She worries people from the east coast will invade our shoreline.

“Dade is 90 miles away,” Taylor said. “That’s an hour and a half drive. They’ve been without beaches for a very long time. They closed their beaches first. So I would not feel comfortable opening beaches until we understand that the region, southeast, and west have opened.”

Miami-Dade County has over 9,000 COVID-19 cases compared to 470 in Collier County. Taylor supports a more regional approach to opening up.

However, Commissioner Bill McDaniel feels the time is right to reopen the county.

“We can’t continue on with the methodologies that have been in effect right now, without crushing our entire community from an economic standpoint,” McDaniel said.

And McDaniel says the beaches are a safe place to start.

”I think lifting other restrictions on the stay at home order and opening up from a recreational standpoint is a nice way to go,” McDaniel said. “It gets people out. It gets people used to practicing on their own with social distancing.”

And it would bring people back to the vacant restaurants, shut down parks and popular places such as along 5th Avenue in downtown Naples.

Fire Chief Pete DiMaria of Naples Fire-Rescue Department is a member of a new task force focusing on how to reopen Collier County safely. He says they are focused on safety.

“We want to protect the community,” said. “We need to get reopened. We want to make sure we don’t have a spike in cases once we do that, so it’s important that we take our time.”

Mayor Teresa Heitmann, who is also a member of the task force, says the reopening of beaches will be among discussion items for the first meeting Wednesday.

Reporter:Gina Tomlinson
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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