JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis chose Little Talbot Island State Park in Duval County on Friday morning to announce that all Florida’s state parks would reopen Monday, the same day restaurants and retails stores can open with capacity limitations.
“People can go out, they can get sunlight, they can get fresh air. It’s good for peace of mind," DeSantis said.
The governor did not say the risk of spreading coronavirus in a park is non-existent but cited a Department of Homeland Security Bio-defense Lab study that showed that ultraviolet radiation that mimicked natural sunlight destroys the new coronavirus.
“Sunlight rapidly killed the virus quickly,” DeSantis said. “Outdoor, daytime environments are lower risk for transmission than indoor environments."
DeSantis said that for people under 50 who are otherwise healthy, there’s “extremely low risk” of being outside in open public spaces.
Ironically, Little Talbot Island, where DeSantis made the announcement, is not on the list of 80 state parks that will reopen Monday. Big Talbot, Amelia Island, Fort George Island state parks are on the list. Anastasia State Park in St. Johns County is also not on the list to reopen.
The governor praised Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry for recognizing the data and opening Duval County’s beaches two weeks ago, noting that the city was ridiculed for the decision.
“There was a lot of people, not from Florida, but from between (Washington) D.C. and New York, who thought that this was like the most significant thing that has ever happened, that the sky was going to fall. They did misleading pictures, acting like it was Lollapalooza on the beach," DeSantis said. "This is what they were focused on. Not dirty subway cars, not other things that have been major transmitters of this disease ... and people here were mocked.”
Curry announced earlier this week that hours that the beaches would be open would be extended from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday although the restrictions on social distancing and requirement to keep moving remain in place.
“Numerous studies have shown that nature is actually good for our health and well-being, and Florida’s state parks are the ideal place to commune with nature, reduce stress levels and unwind,” Woodward said in a prepared statement. “And by continuing to be ever-vigilant in practicing social distancing, our parks can also provide a safe outlet for so many.”
While DeSantis said the state won’t issue fines, gatherings of 10 or more people will continue to be prohibited.
Julia Woodward, chief executive officer of the Florida State Parks Foundation, welcomed the announcement that parks will be allowed to reopen.
Parks will resume normal operating hours of 8 a.m. to sunset, with the exception of beach areas. Access to beach areas will have reduced daily hours that may vary locally along with reductions in visitor capacity to ensure social distancing. Visitors should check the Department’s website at www.floridastateparks.org for the latest information.
DeSantis stood in front of a kayak and a bicycle, while criticized the doom and gloom some predicted for the state. DeSantis also noted that 42% of Duval County’s hospital beds are empty and the rate of positive tests continues to drop -- it’s now below 4% with only 1.8% positive test of those reported on Thursday.
“With that level of positives, it’s so low, it’s hard to get a downward trend,” DeSantis said, adding the availability of testing in Jacksonville now exceeds demand.
DeSantis’ appearance Friday in Northeast Florida came as the state reported 1,038 new cases of the coronavirus, pushing its total number of cases to 34,728. Also, the state reported another 46 deaths, bringing the number of Floridians killed by the virus to 1,314.