Large Florida Easter cookout broken up by police amid coronavirus stay-at-home order

(Courtesy: WEAR-TV)

More than 100 people gathered outside an affordable housing complex in the Florida Panhandle for an Easter cookout Sunday, defying social distancing measures amid the coronavirus outbreak before police arrived to break up the scene.

Videos shared on social media showed at least 100 people, most of whom were not wearing masks, gathered on the lawn in the Attucks Court community in Pensacola.

One Facebook Live recorded by a resident showed police vehicles driving through the neighborhood, as their car megaphones instructed residents to obey the governor's stay-at-home order. Other officers wearing personal protective equipment are seen on foot passing residents, many of whom had children with them, telling them to disperse.

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Police Chief Tommi Lyter and several other officers, all wearing personal protective equipment, had responded to the gathering to inform residents about the risks of COVID-19, the Pensacola News Journal reported. No arrests were made and no citations were issued. It took police about two hours to disperse the group. The party had disbanded by 7 p.m.

“The officers were really just educating those at the party about the importance of social distancing,” Pensacola Police Department spokesman Officer Mike Wood told WEAR-TV. “Many of those in attendance were young and we were trying to explain to them that while they may think they’re not at high risk for the virus, they can bring it home to their older family members.”

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After deferring to local governments for weeks, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1, urging residents to leave their homes only for essential trips. On March 30, the governor had issued a safer-at-home order for four counties in South Florida, which is the part of the state worst-stricken by the virus.

In his weekly virtual address Monday, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said the city would keep all public parks open but will close all playgrounds, shared equipment and remove basketball hoops from outdoor courts, the Journal reported.

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DeSantis’ order “allows participation in recreational activities, we want to provide our residents opportunities to maintain a healthy lifestyle at our parks during this COVID-19 pandemic," Robinson said in the press conference broadcast from his home. "Please remember, even in some of our parks you may see heavy parking, but we are continuing to maintain and watch all those parks to make sure people in there are conducting themselves per the order."

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