Operation Relaunch Volusia is under way

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SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

As the number of new coronavirus cases in Florida and locally continue to decline, Volusia County is readying a plan to reopen county services and facilities that were scaled back to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Dubbed Relaunch Volusia, the plan was previewed for the County Council on Tuesday.

“Your team of department directors have been working closely in developing our reopening plans,” deputy county manager Suzanne Konchan told council members.

‘A paced manner’

Much of the focus of Tuesday’s discussion was on the county’s beaches, which initiated the first step this past weekend in a phased-in approach to opening up more access. The full plan for county government is being finalized and is expected to be a primary topic of conversation at next week’s county council meeting.

Konchan said every division in the county is putting together a phased-in approach just like as is being done for the beaches.

“We want to re-introduce the numbers of people in a paced manner,” said Konchan. “In other county departments, you will see a similar approach, but customized to the services they provide.”

Parking spaces, ramps

Over the past weekend, the county opened up parking spaces on county rights-of-way near the beach and also opened three beach vehicle ramps for use by handicapped persons. All other beach ramps remain closed at this time to vehicles to prevent large gatherings on the beach.

A total of 795 vehicles used the three ADA ramps over the weekend, with the one at Dunlawton Boulevard in Daytona Beach Shores getting the most use.

The new rules created some enforcement challenges for beach safety personnel, who just in the last week issued more than 2,500 warnings for physical activity violations.

But county manager George Recktenwald said the experience was a good dry run for when the beaches are totally reopened.

“We’re looking at when we do the eventual, larger opening how we space people out,” said Recktenwald. “So this was a good run of how we did that as far as the parking.”

Preparing for re-entry

Future steps in the phased reopening of the beaches are expected to include opening the coast-line to full activities instead of just essential exercise.

Opening beach vehicle ramps while also limiting the volume of vehicles at first, expanding social distancing guidelines beyond six feet between groups of beachgoers and implementing a 25-foot separation between parked vehicles.

To prepare for re-entry of vehicles onto the beach, utility posts will be placed in the sand between the existing conservation poles to mark the 25-foot separation for parking.

“We are looking at whatever methods we can to do it in a safe way,” Konchan said of reopening the beaches.

Meanwhile, county facilities like the DeLand administration center will have a coordinated reopening for the public, with reduced hours at first. And county libraries, which are currently providing online, telephone and curb service, are working on a first step towards reopening by making their computer terminals available for public use by appointment.

Reduction dependence

The implementation and timing of Relaunch Volusia will largely depend on a continuing reduction in new COVID-19 cases in conjunction with more testing availability and the guidance coming out of the governor’s office regarding reopening the state.

Governor DeSantis’ safer-at-home order was set to expire on Thursday.

County Chair Ed Kelley made it clear that he hopes the beaches can be fully reopened as soon as possible, saying it will make it easier to just enforce separation rules rather than having to dictate what activities are and are not allowed.

“I hope that can be done sooner than later,” Kelley said.

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