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Sunbathers enjoy Sunset Beach in Treasure Island, Florida, on May 2, 2020. Beaches in the city just south of Tampa are to be officially open on May 4, following a shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sunbathers enjoy Sunset Beach in Treasure Island, Florida, on May 2, 2020. Beaches in the city just south of Tampa are to be officially open on May 4, following a shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

  • Deanna A. Oleske, the associate medical examiner in St. Johns County, Florida, sent numerous emails to local officials, urging them to close the county’s beaches, according to The Washington Post.

  • “Close the beaches. Please,” she wrote to the county administration in one email obtained by the newspaper. 

  • Oleske said the county could only hold just 119 bodies at once and was ill-equipped to handle an outbreak of COVID-19.

  • Beaches in the county closed for about two weeks but have since re-opened to the public, and they will see almost no restrictions beginning Monday.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A medical examiner in St Johns County, Florida sent multiple emails to county officials, pleading with them to close beaches to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. While local leaders eventually closed beaches in the county, they’ve since re-opened and will have fewer restrictions on Monday.

According to emails seen by The Washington Post, Deanna A. Oleske, the associate medical examiner in St Johns County asked health officials to “protect the residents” of the county by closing beaches.

“Close the beaches. Please,” she wrote March 23 in an email to Hunter Conrad, the county administrator, according to the report. St. John’s County Administration did not immediately return a Business Insider request for comment about Oleske’s emails.

Oleske on multiple occasions warned the medical examiner’s office was “in a dire situation,” adding she lacked staffing, equipment, or even the capacity to accommodate the bodies people who died from COVID-19. She said local funeral homes, hospitals, and her office could contain a maximum of 119 deceased people at once, asking for additional storage space in the case of a local outbreak.

The emails were first obtained by Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation, according to the report.

“We are facing NUMEROUS issues that are inhibiting us to appropriately staff this office in an expeditious manner BEFORE facing a pandemic of unknown proportions,” Oleske said in another email, according to the Washington Post. 

As The Washington Post noted, despite her pleas, St. Johns County kept beaches open through the month of March. It closed them only after a photo captured from above had shown a direct division between the beach in a neighboring county that had already closed beaches and crowded a crowded beach in St. Johns County.

While only four people have died in the county according to The Post report, a shortage of space for corpses has been seen in places in the US that have been hardest hit by the virus. 

On April 17, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told local leaders they were allowed to open up beaches so that residents could use them as space for exercise. The county re-opened beaches in a limited capacity with DeSantis’ announcement, allowing physical activity before noon, according to News4Jax.

But St. Johns County officials announced April 30 that beginning May 4 — Monday — beaches in the state will open without most of the previously imposed restrictions. Driving will be prohibited on the beach and social distancing will be required, according to a press release from the county.

Florida, which has the second-oldest population by percentage in the nation, is currently the process of reopening, even as the state reported 615 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, the day before re-opening efforts are slated to begin, according to Click Orlando.

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