Venice Beach during COVID-19 coronavirus

GONDOLIER PHOTO BY SCOTT LAWSON Groups gather, sitting in circles in the sand, at Venice Beach on Thursday morning. On Saturday, the county and city closed all beaches in the county.

VENICE — Asking people not to congregate during the coronavirus pandemic is one thing.

Asking them to stay off the beach in Florida is apparently another matter entirely.

Local law enforcement agencies were busy this weekend spreading the word about staying off the beach. What they didn’t do was cite anybody or issue any fines.

But that could change, especially for repeat offenders hellbent on their morning beach walk.

Kaitlyn Perez, spokeswoman with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, said she hadn’t heard of any local law enforcement agencies issuing fines, but reminded the public that violating Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order not to congregate on the beach is an offense that can get one arrested.

Likewise, Venice Police Capt. Charles Thorpe said his agency hadn’t issued any fines, even for those warned off the beach who return.

“Thankfully we haven’t run into that more than a couple times,” Thorpe said.

He said right now, it’s about education.

“We made quite a few contacts this weekend. We’re warning residents and educating them by reading them the governor’s executive order about staying off the beach. We want it make sure it’s understood,” Thorpe said. “I’m preaching patience and diplomacy.”

The city of Venice set up signs and blocked some entryways, warning people away from the beach. More concerning was the number of vehicles on the roads.

“There’s a lot of people doing their recreation close to beaches, especially on Tarpon Center Road,” Thorpe said. “My message is: be mindful as drivers. Be careful of people in the thoroughfares. Pay attention in the roadway.”

For those thinking of sneaking back onto the beach, don’t.

“We don’t want to have to issue citations, but it is a second degree misdemeanor,” Thorpe said.

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