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Local News

A Busy Memorial Day Weekend Could Set The Tone For Rest Of Summer

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Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
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Local beaches saw record numbers of people over Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff to the summer season. 

Just two months ago, local governments had closed beaches and short-term vacation rentals were banned. Now, with both open, people didn’t hesitate to hit the beach. 

“We were anticipating it,” said Joe D'Agostino, beach safety chief of the Destin Fire Control District. “When the short-term rental ban was lifted, we were anticipating it.” 

Lifeguards can’t enforce social distancing, but D’Agostino said “efforts were made.” Photos and live, beach-cam footage from some public and private beaches in Okaloosa and Walton counties showed heavy crowds. And on Pensacola Beach, 89,048 vehicles drove through the toll bridge over the holiday weekend: The highest count in three years. 

According to a news release from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the agency handled more than 2,600 calls for service between noon Friday and midnight Monday. Those calls included 36 vessel stops, 13 distressed swimmers, 74 disturbances, 156 citizen contacts and https://youtu.be/rYjuTGa5QjI">one rescue of nine people from a sinking boat off Destin’s East Pass.  OCSO Sgt. Brian Parkton said the rescue is a reminder about the importance of lifejackets. 

And according to Destin Beach Safety’s weekend statistics, 45,835 people were in attendance. Lifeguards made more than 27,000 “preventative actions” and rescued 54 people. 

The numbers from the weekend seemed on par with most Memorial Day weekends — perhaps even busier. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many boats in the water,” said Parkton. “The last few weekends we saw a lot of locals in the water.”

The volume of calls and contacts being made between the number of people out at Crab Island and on local beaches kept deputies on their toes. 

“It was like drinking out of a fire hose,” said Parkton. 

The Memorial Day weekend — and the busy beach days that follow — carry a new set of challenges for first responders during the coronavirus pandemic. Working on the marine unit, Parkton said it’s easy to keep distances on a boat, but deputies are still wearing masks. 

Since lifeguards can’t wear masks, Destin Beach Safety officials set up orange cones around the perimeter of lifeguard towers to encourage social distancing between beachgoers and guards. That message is shared on the Destin Beach Safety Facebook page, along with daily water conditions. 

“There’s no PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for lifeguards,” said D’Agostino. “We have to be ready to jump in the water anytime. So, we’re asking people, ‘please don’t get inside the cones. Have that same respect for others while at the beach.’” 

Both D’Agostino and Parkton estimated a majority of those on boats and at the beach were locals. By Tuesday and Wednesday, beaches were quieter, said D’Agostino. 

“Under normal circumstances, it stays busy,” he said. “But Tuesday and Wednesday, it was like the wheels had come off. There are so many moving parts. This year will be harder to predict. I could see July 4 bringing a record number or it could be 60% of previous years.”