Beaches opening Monday, but Palm Beach County called ‘emerging COVID-19 hotspot’

Department of Homeland Security document labels the county an ‘area of concern,’ but alarming numbers in question

Beachgoers are seen on the shore in John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo: EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images) (EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI, WPLG)

UPDATED: Palm Beach County’s beaches, public, municipal and private, will open on Monday after its commissioners voted 5-2 on Friday in favor of the reopenings.

The beaches will be open sunrise to sunset and there will be no restrictions regarding sunbathing and swimming. Beach chairs and umbrella will be available for rental.

The Executive Order states that the restrictions still in place are the CDC guidelines of limit gatherings to no more than 10 persons and beachgoers must adhere to social distancing.

On the same day as the vote, a Trump administration document, circulated by the Department of Homeland Security, identified Palm Beach County as one of three emerging COVID-19 hot spots in the U.S.

The May 15 update names new areas of concern for the coronavirus.

“As most states have begun phased re-opening, several COVID-19 hot spots continue to emerge,” the DOHS document stated. The other counties listed along with Palm Beach are San Bernardino County, Calif, and Marshall County, Alabama.

Yahoo News reported it learned of the interagency update from a recipient of the document.

Yahoo quotes that the concern in the administration document was: “Palm Beach County reported a 71% increase in new cases the last 7 days compared to the previous 7 days. The state authorized Palm Beach County to begin Phase 1 of reopening on 11 May, which includes the reopening of barbershops, salons, restaurants, and other businesses."

County spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda told the Sun Sentinel that officials are aware of the article, but they have not seen the document and were not contacted by Yahoo News before the story was released. Yahoo News reported that it reached out to county, state and federal officials before publishing but got did not receive a response.

The alarming increase stated in the administration document conflicts with state data, according to reports. A Sun Sentinel review of state data showed a 20.7% increase in cases in Palm Beach County in the week preceding May 12. From April 28 to May 5, the data showed a 17.8% increase in cases in the county. The Palm Beach Post also questioned the data. “The only way the figures result in a 71 percent increase is if officials looked at the seven-day rise in cases on May 10, when it was 740 vs. May 3, when it was 433. But that number is so variable that the very next day, the comparison would have resulted in a 5 percent increase, from 548 to 578,” the newspaper reported.

On May 4, a story in the Miami Herald stated, however, that there have been allegations that Florida and its governor have deliberately underreported its coronavirus numbers.

Local has reached out to the writer of the Yahoo News story, Alexander Nazaryan, for more about the Homeland Security document and the data.

Like many other cities across the county re-opening, an analysis conducted by the Sun Sentinel found that Palm Beach County “hadn’t met all the federal guidelines for reopening when it ended its lockdown.”

The analysis showed that in the two weeks before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the go ahead for Palm Beach County to reopen, the percentage of positive tests and infections from the coronavirus had not declined.

Palm Beach County was excluded from the rest of the Florida’s Phase One plans to open early along with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. but Mayor Dave Kerner sent a letter to DeSantis pleading for permission to reopen his county. The Governor allowed the county to open May 11.

The latest report from the Department of Health has Palm Beach third in the state for coronavirus cases.

In the Sunday, May 16 report, Miami-Dade has 15,658 cases of COVID-19 with 561 deaths, the highest numbers in the state.

Broward has 6,243 cases and 279 deaths.

Palm Beach County has 4,524 cases and 275 deaths.

Most of the state of Florida reopened on May 4. All of the reopenings are subject to restrictions.

About the Author:

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local