Walton County attorney Daniel Uhlfelder is a strong proponent for sharing beaches. But as the world faces the coronavirus pandemic, he thinks beaches across the state should be closed.
And he’s making sure Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gets the message.
On Friday, March 20, Uhlfelder filed a lawsuit in the Second Judicial Circuit suing the governor to close all state beaches saying DeSantis has the responsibility to “initiate immediate action to cope with emerging health problems and try to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.”
DeSantis has already closed beaches in two South Florida counties, Broward and Palm Beach, but Uhlfelder says it’s not enough.
“This is an extremely contagious disease and we don’t have the resources to treat everyone,” he said Tuesday. “We only have 67,000 ICU beds in a state of 21 million people. Beaches are the main draw (to Florida). If they’re closed, that cuts a lot of people coming into the state.”
Last week, government officials in Okaloosa, Walton, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties all voted to temporarily close public beaches. The City of Destin closed both public and private beaches through April 30. During the meeting, Destin City Councilman Chatham Morgan said he wished the state would take the lead on the issue.
Uhlfelder said he believes the governor is “shirking his responsibility.”
“The local municipalities have spent an inordinate amount of time on this issue,” he said. “It’s taken their time away when they should be focusing efforts on area hospitals. Governor DeSantis can change this with one stroke of a pen.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, DeSantis said he didn’t think the state needed a one-size-fits-all approach.
“We’ve worked with Palm Beach and Broward [counties] to impose more significant mitigation measures,” DeSantis said during the press conference. “And so, you have that area, which is fighting this a little bit different than say, Northwest Florida or some of the places which we’re still testing, identifying, but were containing, because you haven’t had widespread community spreading.”
Americans were asking us for Coronavirus tests on the beach yesterday. While we don’t have any of those, we had questions. pic.twitter.com/kWtNYfzLct
— Daniel Uhlfelder (@DWUhlfelderLaw) March 18, 2020
Uhlfelder made headlines for his battle with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee over beach access in Walton County. Since then, he’s faced a Bar complaint from Huckabee for allegedly harassing him on Twitter. Since the feud, Uhlfelder gained an online following with more than 100,000 Twitter followers. He also formed a Super PAC.
Using his Twitter platform, he launched a change.org petition to urge DeSantis to close beaches which collected more than 700 signatures in its first six hours.
“Nobody wants to close the beaches,” Uhlfelder said. “But the curve needs to flatten and the best way to do that is limiting contact. The beaches are a magnet to people.”
Before filing the lawsuit, Uhlfelder checked out the beaches himself clad in white coveralls to avoid germs. He was dismayed to see both visitors and locals not adhering to the CDC guidelines for social distancing. And he shared a video with his online followers.
“We’re not really, like, at risk of dying,” one college student in pink board shorts says to Uhlfelder.
“It was disturbing. It wasn’t just college students out there,” Uhlfelder said. “There were parents with young kids. They’re all getting mixed messages from leaders in Washington and Tallahassee.”
Although Walton County beaches are closed through April 30, Uhlfelder said he’s not backing down until all Florida beaches are closed.
“(The governor) needs to just buckle up and do the right thing,” he said.