Brevard County, Florida, on Thursday implemented a temporarily ban on hotel room rentals to tourists to help guard against the spread of the coronavirus. The ban takes effect Friday, reports Florida Today, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network.
The Brevard County Policy Group — a 10-member panel that convenes when the county is in a state of emergency — unanimously approved banning tourists from renting rooms at local hotels, motels, recreational-vehicle parks, campgrounds or vacation rental facilities for the next 30 days. The restriction also applies to other short-term rentals and other transient rentals, such as time-shares, vacation rentals by owner and Airbnb rentals.
Exceptions will include business travelers who can produce a note from their employer; those who are working in Brevard County; local residents; and residents who need to isolate away from a family member with coronavirus. Those people still would be allowed to rent such lodging facilities.
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Hotels and motels could continue to operate under those restrictions.
The Policy Group action late Thursday follows a recommendation made earlier that afternoon by the Brevard County Commission, in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner John Tobia opposed.
Tobia voted no, contending that there is no provable link between tourists renting hotel rooms in Brevard and local coronavirus cases. Tobia said the county could be opening itself up to a lawsuit by imposing restrictions on private businesses like hotels.
He said he based his views on legal concerns expressed by County Attorney Eden Bentley about whether there is a link that could be proven between tourists and the spread of coronavirus to Brevard residents.
“Benjamin Franklin once said that ‘those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” Tobia said after the County Commission meeting. “When confronted with this decision, I asked the director of the Brevard County Health Department whether this taking of liberty was based in science, and she was unable to definitively state that it was. At a time of massive unemployment that will result in devastating consequences, I will not vote to shut down businesses without a compelling and factual basis to do so.”
The Policy Group also unanimously approved a 30-day ban on people being on the county’s spoil islands or sandbar areas along the rivers. Relatively large groups of people congregated on some spoil islands in recent weeks.
The county’s action was taken to help comply with “social distancing” recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the Florida Department of Health
County commissioners had approved the spoil island restriction by the same 4-1 vote, with Tobia opposed. The Policy Group added sandbars to the restriction, fearing people who could not frequent spoil islands would move their parties to the sandbars.
“There is no reason for people to go there and congregate,” County Commission Chair Bryan Lober said during a Facebook Live video message after the County Commission meeting.
Tobia felt that, because the state already is ordering that there not be groups of 10 or more people congregating, it was not the county’s place to ban individuals from the spoil islands.
The Policy Group includes county and municipal government, health, school, public safety and law enforcement officials.
Lober — who also chairs the Policy Group — said violators of the county’s action could be subject to up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, “so it really is not something to be trifled with.”
The county action supplements Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide stay-at-home executive order, which takes effect Friday and which the governor is terming “Safer at Home.”
In a presentation to the County Commission, Florida Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, encouraged commissioners to take the local steps it took — and more. Fine called his proposal “Brevard Stay at Home; Visitors, See You Real Soon.”
Fine said anything the county can do to stop the spread of the cornanvirus should be done.
Fine cited national estimates that indicated the best-case scenario is that 100,000 to 200,000 people will die from the coronavirus in the United States, with the worst-case scenario showing 2.2 million deaths.
Extrapolating those figures to the population level of Brevard, Fine said that could mean 200 to 400 deaths in this county under the best-case scenario, and 4,000 deaths in the worst-case scenario.
“Those numbers are very sobering,” said Fine, who was speaking on behalf of Brevard County’s six-person delegation to the Florida Legislature.
Fine also proposed closing Brevard’s beaches to nonresidents or closing them for a few hours a day to everyone; as well as closing the county’s boat ramps to nonresidents.
Brevard now is the only county on Florida’s East Cost where the beaches are open. Brevard has closed its beachside park and beachside parking areas, but the beaches themselves remain open.
Last weekend, five beachside communities implemented 11 a.m.-to-4 p.m. closings of the beaches. Beaches in unincorporated Brevard remained open throughout the weekend.
Now, six beachside communities — Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Satellite Beach, Indian Harbour Beach, Indialantic and Melbourne Beach — have implemented more wide-ranging restrictions.
They will limit beach activities to walking, jogging, biking, fishing, surfing and swimming during Florida’s 30-day “safer at home” order amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
Activities such as sunbathing, sitting in chairs, organized sports or lying on blankets will not be permitted on the beaches in those communities.
County commissioners took no new action related to the beaches during their 2½-hour meeting on Thursday, but are likely to discuss the issue again in the coming days.
Commissioners also took no action related to a proposal to restrict use of the county’s boat launches to Brevard residents.
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey had proposed not formally implementing the restrictions on hotels renting to tourists.
He suggested instead that he and his Brevard County Sheriff’s Office team prepare an announcement to tourists, telling them that they should refrain from coming to Brevard County for the time being.
But county commissioners decided that they wanted something more formal from the commission and the Policy Group.
“The key point here is that it is our intent here to effectively close Brevard County to tourists,” Ivey said during the Facebook video message after the County Commission vote. “Right now, we are asking those that were planning to come here from a tourist perspective to please refrain from doing so. Do not come to Brevard County.”
Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 or [email protected] Twitter: @bydaveberman
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: ‘Do not come to Brevard’: Florida county bars tourists from hotels to help stop coronavirus spread
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