JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry on Monday imposed new limits on the number of people allowed inside certain Jacksonville businesses at any one time, including restaurants and bars, in hopes of curbing the spread of coronavirus.
Citing new federal guidelines discouraging large-scale public gatherings, the mayor issued an order banning establishments from having more than 50 customers inside at once until further notice. He also banned the sale of alcohol between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m.
The rules go into effect beginning at 5 p.m. Monday, but there is still the looming question of how the new rule will be enforced. The rules apply to buildings that tend to be social settings such as restaurants, bars, shopping malls and houses of worship. But there are many exceptions to the rules for businesses like grocery stores and manufacturing plants.
“I’ve heard and seen lots of frustrations from many parts of the community. I understand the anxieties that many citizens are feeling, but I want the people of Jacksonville to understand this is not an overreaction," Curry said at a City Hall news conference. “These are important actions advised by medical professionals throughout the country to slow the spread of this disease.”
Mayor Lenny Curry announces new limit on all restaurants and bars in Jacksonville until further notice. No more than 50 people permitted in an establishment, following CDC recommendations. Alcohol sales are also banned from midnight to 8am.— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) March 16, 2020
The mayor said everyone needs to do their part as individuals to reduce transmissions of the virus so that Jacksonville hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with surges of patients they aren’t equipped to handle. He tweeted Monday night it’s important that people who think they need to be tested don’t show up an emergency room and, instead, call their doctor or the Department of Health first. Curry said he also anticipates that drive-up testing will be in place at a Jacksonville site by the end of the week.
To clarify new limits stated earlier at the press conference with Mayor @lennycurry; The City of Jacksonville is limiting the crowd capacity of recreational and social gatherings to 50 people are focusing on unnecessary social contact. (1)— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) March 16, 2020
The order comes a day after Curry hinted in a series of social media posts that he might take official action to mandate “social distancing,” the widely recommended practice of avoiding close contact with others if people did not take steps to do so on their own.
“If folks don’t act accordingly, I will mandate social distancing,” the mayor tweeted Sunday.
2 if folks don’t act accordingly, I will mandate social distancing.— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) March 16, 2020
It also comes on the heels of new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which called for the cancellation of events involving 50 or more people for at least the next eight weeks.
“Bars and restaurants filled to capacity may be good for the bottom line in the short run but they are sending the wrong message about this crisis,” Curry said. “We know these decisions will cause economic difficulty for many in our community we are working with state and federal partners to find a solution to those impacted.”
The mayor has been an outspoken advocate for social distancing as new cases of coronavirus have cropped up in recent days in Florida, including in Jacksonville, which is now home to four confirmed cases. One is an 83-year-old man, while three others are men of unspecified ages.
On Friday, Curry canceled all upcoming events scheduled at city-owned venues — from TIAA Bank Field to VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena to the Times-Union Center for Performing Arts — in a bid to reduce the number of places where crowds gather and the virus could spread.
Businesses react to new regulations
The Casa Maria Restaurant on the Northside easily fills up with more than 50 customers, employees told News4Jax. On Monday, following Curry’s announcement, the restaurant posted a sign on the door to inform customers that only 50 people are allowed inside at a time. A hostess is tasked with keeping count. Once patrons get inside, in order to prevent customers from sitting too close to each other, Casa Maria employees said they plan to spread the tables out.
Despite the negative impact the restrictions could have on businesses, many people who work at the restaurant said its better to be safe than sorry.
Others are worried about the short-term effects.
Tracy Crooms is a bartender at Copper Top Restaurant and Bar. She said the new rules will hurt their business.
“For our weekend crowd, its definitely going to impact us because we have live music and entertainment on Friday nights, karaoke so at midnight people start getting pretty cranked up and enjoy themselves," she said.
Crooms said she fears it’s only a matter of time before all restaurants are forced to close.
“Just concerned, because I need my job just as everyone else does," Crooms said. "One day of hit and miss here, for a lot of us, is just money out of our pockets.”
Brandon Orta, a Casa Maria employee, is optimistic.
“It won’t affect us too much. People will still be dining here. It will still be ok," he said.
Lena Antar, one of the owners of St. Marys Seafood & More in Mandarin said she has been stressed since the news broke.
“We are a small family business. Got a lot of employees. Definitely, if something happens to our business it will affect our employees as well,” Antar said. “We are hoping it passes sooner than later.”
She said the changes come at the worst time of year because it’s quite busy right now.
At Wacko’s Gentlemen’s Club, where there’s room for more than 200 people, the new capacity limit has forced managers to cut the staff.
“It severely impacted our business. It’s affecting us, the dancers we have here. No one is able to make money," said club manager Tyler Douglas.
News4Jax also spoke with a number of businesses on Monday that will be impacted, like hotels. Guests will be allowed, but social events, meetings and weddings will not. Large Events at private halls won’t be allowed and many have already taken steps to limit that.
Many people who were just hearing about the limitations and said they will abide.