JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Positive trends in COVID-19 testing data have led Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to begin taking the next steps toward getting the city “gradually and cautiously” back to work.
Those steps, which Curry announced during a virtual news conference Tuesday afternoon, included extending beach hours from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., beginning Monday, May 4, for recreational activities. The mayor also said he was repealing his executive order that prohibited all hotels, motels and other commercial lodging establishments from accepting or extending reservations for any person other than essential lodgers.
“This action aligns Jacksonville with state orders,” Curry said. “I will work with Visit Jax leadership and lodging industry to provide assistance as we do this in a safe and sensible way.”
Press the play button above to watch the mayor’s entire news conference.
During a meeting Tuesday with President Donald Trump at the White House, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will announce his plan on Wednesday to begin opening the state. But because Florida’s safer-at-home order is in effect until Thursday, Curry said he could not yet give an exact timeline for reopening the city until that order is amended, extended or expired, though he’s coordinating with the governor’s office and hopes to announce a detailed timeline by the end of this week.
“Then we give a very specific date about which nonessential businesses go back. It’s my goal to have some back next week,” Curry said. “Yesterday, I spoke directly to retail, lodging and restaurants and advised them to begin formulating plans for resuming operations that incorporate proper social distancing and CDC sanitation guidelines.”
Curry would not give specifics on what types of businesses would reopen first, but it’s believed restaurants would be allowed to let customers dine in once again.
At Dick’s Wings in Lakewood, the owner on Tuesday was taking out half the seating inside and place bar seats 6 feet apart to make sure it will be safe when the restaurant is able to allow customers to dine in. In addition, salt and pepper shakers and napkin holders were removed from tables as a safety precaution.
“I think what has to happen is that customers have to feel safe, first, wherever they go. So if a business is not taking that extra step and making sure and giving customers assurances that they’re doing their homework and making sure that it’s a safe and clean environment -- that’s got to happen," said Ken Elmore, the owner of Dick’s Wings in Lakewood. "Those that don’t will probably not make it. And those that do and do it right -- that’s part of our responsibility to our customers.”
The mayor acknowledged that larger venues, such as movie theaters, and other nonessential businesses -- such as gyms, nail and hair salons -- will need a little bit more time to plan and prepare, and he said he will be working to be consistent with the state.
Also on Tuesday, Curry signed the relief bill approved by the City Council that will provide $1,000 to qualifying households in need in Jacksonville and the expansion of testing.
“We’ll be able to significantly expand our testing operations for the next six months, which will provide the critical data we need moving forward in the days and weeks ahead,” Curry said.
As far as the stimulus money, each Jacksonville household that earns under $75,000 and can show they’ve taken a 25% income loss due to the coronavirus can soon apply to get $1,000. Later this week, a website will be up to allow people to make appointments, and afterward, they must go in person to either the Main Library at 303 N. Laura St. or the Ed Ball Building at 214 N. Hogan St. to be issued a payment card.
“(The payment cards) will be able to be used at any kind of merchant, as any type of payment card would normally be able to be used. We’re not aware that they can be transferred at a bank. You know, for instance, if you take it into a bank and you try to move the money into your account -- that will not work. And they will not be able to be used at an ATM. However, they can be used just like any other credit card with an online retailer or anywhere in person,” said Stephanie Burch, with the mayor’s office.
As of Tuesday morning, according to the Florida Department of Health, Duval County had 1,001 COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths. Curry said Tuesday that Duval County’s percentage of positive results was 4.5, a number that has steadily declined for the last three weeks. He said that’s why he decided to further steps on Tuesday toward getting the city back to work.
“Not only do I think we can do this responsibly -- we have to not only do it responsibly, we have to do it,” Curry said. “A perpetual lockdown is not going to work. The virus is with us, so we’ve got to be able to move about and get people’s businesses running so they can take care of their families. And we just are all going to have to be responsible individuals in this process.”