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Florida closes state parks after criticism of its response to coronavirus

NBC News logo NBC News 3/23/2020 Ben Kesslen
a tree in front of a body of water: Empty lounge chairs on a deserted beach at a resort in Windley Key, on March 22, 2020, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. © Chandan Khanna Empty lounge chairs on a deserted beach at a resort in Windley Key, on March 22, 2020, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

All state parks in Florida will close Monday after the state was criticized for keeping its beaches open while coronavirus cases rose.

The decision, made at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, was announced late Sunday after social distancing guidelines failed to work.

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Florida's Department of Environmental Protection "has taken many measures to continue providing resource recreation at our state parks during this time, such as limiting operating hours and reducing visitor capacity at parks with high visitation," the state park website said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this has not resulted in the reductions needed to best protect public health and safety as Florida continues to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

During the peak of spring break, DeSantis said last Tuesday that he would not order the beaches closed, instead limiting parties on beaches to 10 people per group.

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Local officials in Florida towns and cities ended up taking it upon themselves to close beaches last week after the governor's refused.

On Thursday, Miami-Dade County closed all public beaches, along with parks, nonessential retail, and other recreational and entertainment activities. Beaches in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Naples, and other cities around the state also closed.

More beaches will now be closed after the Sunday night announcement by Florida State Parks. There are 175 parks, trails, and historic sites run by the state, according to the Florida parks website.

Florida had 768 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 12 deaths as of Sunday, according to NBC News tallies.

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