Packed beaches remain open despite COVID-19 concerns

Jacksonville Beach mayor says beaches open to public

Jacksonville Beach mayor says beaches open to public

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – The last several days at Jacksonville’s beaches have been busy, as students don’t have school to return to and many people have been asked to stay home from the office in an effort to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

The crowds are causing some concerns about the spread of COVID-19. However, Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said he does not expect the city to close beaches to the public, and the situation is under control.

Latham and other beaches leaders met Monday with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to discuss their unified response to the outbreak.

They agreed to a limit of 50 people in public restaurants, bars and stores starting at 5 p.m. Monday. Alcohol sales will also be banned from midnight to 8 a.m.

With stores and entertainment options limited, tens of thousands of people journeyed to Jacksonville’s beaches over the weekend.

“We get no school and we can do whatever we want,” said Marty Shuler, a Suwannee County student visiting Jacksonville Beach.

It’s an extended spring break for local students. From elementary school to college students, they hit the beach today.

“It’s kind of boring to be honest with you,” said Christopher Grubbs, a Florida State College at Jacksonville student who enjoyed the day with friends near the pier. “I wish there’s more stuff to do -- actually go to class.”

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News4Jax saw crowds Monday, but nothing compared to Saturday and Sunday, as tens of thousands spread out on the sand.

“This is my fourth day in a row at the beach,” said Rachel Ungaro. “Yesterday was crazy. I came here yesterday was crazy busy. It was really crowded.”

But there are safety concerns with the coronavirus outbreak. Health experts are warning against large crowds, even if it’s in the fresh air. Beachgoers use public walkways and utilities.

“Advice is just like anywhere else,” said Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue Captain Rob Emahiser. “Keep your distance, wash your hands.”

Extra lifeguards went on duty over the weekend to deal with the large number of visitors, on top of that, it’s red flag conditions with strong rip currents, which we saw people get caught in today.

Like other first responders, they’re committing to being here for the public.

Some beaches in South Florida did close over the weekend, with many questioning if that’ll happen here.

Leaders in Atlantic, Neptune and Jacksonville Beaches declared a state of emergency over the weekend, helping them secure more funding and resources. However, none closed the beaches to the public.

“We will be here until we can’t or until we are told not to,” Emahiser said. “But even if they do close the beaches, like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, we’re going to be here to help with that.”

Adventure Landing Jacksonville Beach’s waterpark, arcade and attractions remained open Monday. A statement from the company said it’s monitoring the situation and cleaning the facilities often:

Jacksonville Beach Police Department Sgt. Tonya Tator said officers are following the mayor’s guidelines making sure restaurants and bars don’t have more than 50 people. They’re in close communication with city leaders.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.