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Michael Haymans (left) gives instructions to Fourth of July Freedom Swim participants at a previous years' annual holiday event. Haymans and friends started the swim in 1991, but decided to cancel this year's event due to coronavirus.

PUNTA GORDA — Swimmers hoping to take on this year’s Freedom Swim across Charlotte Harbor on July 4 are going to have to stay adrift for now.

Due to coronavirus concerns, the long-time annual event in Charlotte County has been canceled.

“We have struggled with the question about the Freedom Swim for months,” said Michael Haymans, one of the swim’s founders and a Punta Gorda attorney. “We believe that it is responsible to protect one another from infection. We are particularly worried about exposing the (event) help and support personnel to close contact.”

This would be the first time the swim has been canceled in its almost 30 years of existence.

“We have had regulatory authorities try to stop the swim, but we have never canceled,” Haymans said.

Haymans said that people are still being discouraged from gatherings of more than 50 and are still being asked to keep social distances.

“Although we need freedoms of all sorts, and swimmers are expected and encouraged to take care of themselves, we do not want a clash with authorities about dangers to the helping supporters,” Haymans said. “We do not want to be the focal point of large crowds gathering.

“The Governor (Ron DeSantis) has requested that mass gatherings be canceled or postponed. There are times to fight regulatory overreach, but this is not the time for us.”

Last year’s swim brought together around 250 people as participants, some on floaties, some on paddle boards and others freely swimming.

Previous years have brought in as many as 1,000 people to participate in the swim and even more to the harbor to watch.

“These are extraordinary times,” Haymans said. “We feel conflicted but think we are making the correct decision. It is the public outpouring that causes the formal help and support people to come out. It is not just the swimmers and support personnel, it is the public crowding together to watch the spectacle.”

Over the years, the swim typically began at the north end of the U.S. 41 bridges, across the harbor and ending at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda on the south side of the bridges.

Kathy Burnam, Fishermen’s Village spokesperson, said that while they are disappointed Independence Day events like the Freedom Swim have been canceled, “we understand the concern for safety as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Burnam said that their annual Fourth of July Fireworks event has also been canceled due to virus concerns but that their shops, boutiques and restaurants are expected to be open to visitors on July 4.

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