Walton County beaches opened Friday and people showed up with their umbrellas and coolers in tow.
But Daniel Uhlfelder showed up in a black linen robe and a plastic scythe.
The Walton County attorney filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis last month to close all Florida beaches to detract tourists. When news of reopenings began, he promised to greet beachgoers in a Grim Reaper costume as a public safety announcement to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That promise gained him local and national coverage from news shows to People.com and even a mention on “Saturday Night Live’s ‘Weekend Update.’”
By 11 a.m. Friday, there were dozens of friends and family gathered in small groups in front of Pompano Joe’s in Miramar Beach. Most groups were socially distanced at 6 feet or more. Volunteer beach ambassadors greeted visitors to remind them of the regular beach regulations and about social distancing.
But few people were concerned by the pandemic, which is exactly why Uhlfelder launched his “Grim Reaper Tour” on the day of the beach reopening.
“I’m here today to try and make a point that it’s premature to open our beaches,” Uhlfelder said in a live TV interview after arriving at the beach. “The danger of bringing people to our area, spreading the virus, I think it’s going to prolong the recovery we have and we should take better measures (against) drawing people from all over the world to our beautiful beaches. It’s too soon.”
Uhlfelder walked along the shoreline followed by cameras and climbed up the lifeguard tower for a photo op.
“I just want people to be safe,” he said.
I am live on the beaches today in Florida urging Floridians to stay home and save lives. More to come. pic.twitter.com/cvehCK5Wgs
— Daniel Uhlfelder (@DWUhlfelderLaw) May 1, 2020
Some beachgoers took out their phones to record the spectacle. Some thought it was funny, some were angry at Uhlfelder’s stance.
“Go do your propaganda, dude,” said Jay Fields to Uhlfelder after his TV segment.
Fields said he sees no reason why beaches should remain closed when big-box stores such as Walmart or Lowe’s are open.
“This is where the sun is, where the sand is,” he added. “This is where you were told to go as a kid to get your sores cleaned off in the water. We have to move forward. I respect people who are afraid, I respect people who are sick … there’s nothing wrong with this.”
Niceville High School senior Eric Mountain was excited to have a beach day after nearly two months with his friends. He said he doesn’t think scaring people is a good idea.
“Coming out in a Halloween, budget-cut, Party City costume isn’t the way to get stuff done,” he said. “I think people are smart enough to not show up if they’re hacking up a virus.”
Mountain and his friends said they weren’t afraid of catching the virus, but one of them did bring extra hand sanitizer.