JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry is encouraged enough by two weeks of data about positive cases of COVID-19 identified in Jacksonville and hospitalizations that he is reasonably confident the curve is flattening. So much so that he announced that Jacksonville’s beaches will reopen for essential activities at 5 p.m. Friday.
As defined in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order, essential activities include the following:
- Participating in recreational activities consistent with social distancing guidelines
- Such as walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing
“This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life,” Curry said in a statement late Thursday. “Please respect and follow these limitations. Stay within the guidelines for your safety as well as for the safety of your neighbors.”
In addition to limits on activities, beaches will open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. each morning and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each evening. They will remain closed during all other time periods. People at the beach will be swimming and surfing at their own risk.
The beaches, including Jacksonville, Neptune and Atlantic, have been closed by executive order since March 20.
“Its been difficult around here," said Sophia Lamb, who lives at the beaches. “I think a lot of us are resorting to skating and biking, riding our scooters, but the beach is definitely a stress reliever.”
Kelly Grandjean moved to the beaches in February and is relieved they’ll be reopening.
“We just moved here from Texas and haven’t been able to enjoy the beaches yet so we’re really looking forward to being able to get out there and walk and pick up seashells," she said. “I just hope that people are respectful and do what they’re supposed to so they don’t take it back away.”
Parking will be available in Jacksonville Beach west of 1st Street. Parking lots and end zones east of 1st Street will be closed.
The mayors of the beaches plan to hold a news conference Friday at 11 a.m. before the opening.
Parks that are owned and operated by the city of Jacksonville will resume normal hours starting at 5 p.m., but Curry’s executive order limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people still stands.
Some additional notes:
- No overnight camping at Hanna or Huguenot parks is permitted
- Playground amenity usage must follow social distancing requirements
- No organized group activities are permitted – this includes picnics or gatherings, team sports, or any type of group activity
- All park restroom facilities will remain closed
- Pavilions and picnic areas will remain closed
Mayor sees social distancing paying off
The mayor thanked the community for observing the safe-at-home order put into place on April 3 and maintaining social distancing.
"We are near our peak and hospitalizations are at a level of manageability below our local capacity,” Curry said at a midday Thursday video conference. “That consistency for the last two weeks appears to be the flattening that we need. We’ll know for sure within the next week.”
Curry said he was working closely with Gov. Ron DeSantis and reviewing his executive orders to “chart a course” toward getting people back to work. He announced he’ll name a panel of local leaders next week to look at how to safely reopen the community. What he does not see happening within the next month are any large events, which is why the Jacksonville Jazz Festival was canceled earlier this week.
“We’re going to get back to life. We’ve just got to be patient. Pay attention to us over the next week and look forward to how we move forward in the days ahead,” Curry said.
During Thursday’s virtual news conference, Curry signed legislation passed by City Council earlier this week putting the half-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot and noted the success of the city’s partnership with VyStar Credit Union on a small business loan program. He said about 240 small businesses were approved for over $8 million in COVID-19 relief loans in one week.
“These numbers sound great, but remember, these are faces and real people behind these numbers,” Curry noted.
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville, believes Curry and Rutherford are on the right course.
“The governor and the mayor might be comfortable opening up Northeast Florida, Duval County with certain guidelines. -- you know, requiring a mask, requiring social distancing, getting testing,” Rutherford said. “I think that’s going to be an important element and reopening business: to be able to quickly test people and get that results back so you can stop any spread by one individual very quickly ... and ask him just to quarantine.”
COVID-19 testing is becoming more accessible in Jacksonville, with the Florida National Guard announcing Thursday they are increasing their daily quota of tests at Lot J from 400 to 750 each day, seven days a week. Curry reiterated that the positive rate from the 14,450 tests now conducted in Duval County remains just above 5% -- the lowest of any metropolitan area in Florida.