JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With Jacksonville closing its beaches, event venues, restaurants and bars, city leaders say the goal is to protect residents from exposing themselves and others to the coronavirus.
But officials there and in neighboring Nassau County believe more limits could potentially be handed down if people do not take health officials’ advice to practice social distancing more seriously.
Easily the biggest risk for those who don’t follow the rules is putting their health in jeopardy. Another risk? Businesses that do not comply with local and state orders could put their licenses at risk.
Of course, the hope is things never get to that point.
In Jacksonville, officials have closed beaches and placed limits on businesses’ hours and capacity. The state is barring restaurants and bars from in-house dining, requiring them to pivot to carry-out options.
It’s all part of the effort to get people on board with social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is mainly transmitted from person to person.
While not everyone is playing by the new rules, city Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said more can be done to enforce them.
“An example would be a bar or a restaurant that is not adhering to the guidance from the state,” Hughes said. “They have to be licensed both at the local and state level on alcohol sales and other things. So, there’s a potential for their license and business permit to be put in jeopardy if a business owner is simply disregarding and purposely ignoring the rules that are in place.”
In Nassau County, county leaders are exploring how to manage businesses such as adult arcades that aren’t following the advice handed down by state and local leaders.
County Attorney Mike Mullin said officials are monitoring more businesses than just game rooms.
“We are looking at all the nonessential businesses to make a determination in conjunction with the health department and state agencies which ones we would consider,” Mullin said. “If, in fact, (we) have the authority to shut down private businesses, versus the governor, then we would certainly make sure that we are looking at it.”
Hughes said Jacksonville officials have seen very few people not complying, but he also emphasized the importance of not punishing people if it can be handled another way.
“We don’t want to be arresting people or ticketing people or impacting people’s businesses more than they are already impacted,” Hughes said.
He said the city’s encouraging businesses to allow employees to work from home, and urging them to clean their facilities often for the sake of their employees’ health.
He added that no one knows how long this will last, but the city wants to get ahead of the outbreak as much as possible.