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SHALIMAR — To promote social distancing and help prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Okaloosa County Commission on Tuesday approved the closure of all county park restrooms, pavilions and playgrounds.
Those facilities will be closed Wednesday through April 30.
County boat ramps, trails and fields will remain open.
At its emergency meeting, the commission also approved closing through April 30 all Gulf-front beaches, including private ones, within the county’s jurisdiction. Last Thursday, the board had approved closing all county-owned beaches/beach facilities.
There is one exception to the updated beach-closure measure: People who have a commercial saltwater products license with a restricted species endorsement from the state for pompano fishing still may fish from the beaches.
Some commissioners noted those relatively few fishermen must fish in order to feed their families.
To date, county officials have seen "tremendous compliance" to date by people not going to the public beaches, county Public Safety Director Patrick Maddox said.
At the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, which was closed last week to all non-fishing visitors, county Sheriff’s Office deputies have had to go and tell fishermen to stand farther apart instead of shoulder to shoulder, Maddox said.
To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to practice social distancing by standing at least six feet apart from one another and to gather in groups of no more than 10.
"The more voluntary compliance works, the less enforcement is necessary," Sheriff Larry Ashley said at Tuesday’s meeting.
As of Tuesday morning, Okaloosa County still had 14 confirmed cases of coronavirus, a total that was unchanged from late Monday, Maddox said.
He said the county Department of Health has received 300 coronavirus test kits from the state and has also found an additional 160 kits. The kits are being distributed to various healthcare practitioners.
Maddox also said that within the next 48 hours, the Florida Division of Emergency Management would be sending out thousands of masks, face shields, gowns, gloves and other protective items to various healthcare practitioners.
In response to questions from Commissioner Nathan Boyles, Maddox said while Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola has a coronavirus testing center, no such center exists in Okaloosa County.
Okaloosa County residents who want to be tested should call their primary care physician, Maddox said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the commission also approved a measure that "strongly encourages:"
• The closure of all private community centers, meeting rooms and other gathering places, such as bingo halls and bowling alleys
• All pharmacies and grocery stores in the county to reserve a two-hour window, preferably upon opening, for people older than 60
• The lodging industry to work with visitors in offering refunds and rescheduling of trips.
Fort Walton Beach restaurant owner Bobby Nabors expressed frustration to the commission that, while throngs of people are allowed to shop at Wal-Mart, state business regulators have told him no one can go into his restaurant to pick up their to-go orders.
"I’d like this board to tell the state that we need markers," such as when will businesses be allowed to re-open, Nabors said.
At Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, officials during this period normally see about 6,000 passengers per day, county Airports Director Tracy Stage told the commission. Now, however, they are seeing less than 10% of that figure, he said.
Stage later added that some flights are being canceled and the frequencies of some other flights are being significantly reduced.