Duval County beach restrictions lifted; zoo to reopen

City, state on Monday began phase 1 with limited reopening of some businesses

VIDEO: Mayor Lenny Curry took the next steps to reopen Jacksonville, announcing that all Duval County beach restrictions will be lifted and the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will be back open to the public.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry on Tuesday took the next steps to reopen Jacksonville, announcing that all Duval County beach restrictions would be lifted on Wednesday and the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will be back open to the public this weekend.

Curry said he collaborated with the mayors of Jacksonville, Neptune and Atlantic beaches to decide to reopen Duval County beaches without any restrictions on activities.

“While this is a positive step, I continue to urge people of Jacksonville to be cautious and responsible, continue to practice social distancing, keep your group sizes small. Do not get in groups of larger than 10 and please be aware of the space around you,” Curry said during a virtual news conference Tuesday afternoon. “Let’s all be responsible and not let a few mess this up for all of us.”

When the zoo reopens this weekend, the mayor said, there will be safety measures and operational changes in place to protect the public, staff and animals:

  • Ticket sales will be online only. Guests will not be allowed to enter the parking lot without having their tickets purchased. You will not be able to purchase tickets on-site.
  • All zoo staff will have their temperatures taken upon arrival to work and wear masks in public areas. For guests, masks will be available.
  • There will be a one-way path, and 25 hands sanitizing stations will be placed strategically throughout the park.
  • All enclosed exhibits and indoor spaces -- including restaurants, shops, the splash center and playground -- will remain close at this time.
UNCUT: Mayor Lenny Curry’s Tuesday news conference
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry held a virtual news conference on Tuesday, May 5.

The announcement of the reopenings came as the city continued to hand out $1,000 stimulus payments to those who qualify. According to the city, 1,455 payment cards, each worth $1,000, were distributed on Tuesday. Curry said appointments were taking about 25 minutes, and all appointments have been claimed, but with disqualifications, some people who missed out will be contacted for appointments.

RELATED: Who qualifies? And other FAQs | RELATED: Some Jacksonville residents run into issues when applying for stimulus

The city began a gradual reopening Monday, along with the rest of the state, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ phase one plan rolled out, allowing restaurants and retail shops to let customers in with some restrictions.

Also among the changes Monday was that Duval County beaches opened 24/7 for exercise only -- walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming and surfing -- though that will change again on Wednesday when all activities will be allowed.

“I don’t have a problem with them easing restrictions at all. I’m actually glad they are,” said beachgoer Sherard Huntsinger.

When News4Jax went to Jacksonville Beach late Tuesday afternoon, beachgoers were already sunbathing before the restrictions were lifted.

“Just being able to sit up and soak the rays in, I think is really good,” said beachgoer Steven Stanton.

It appeared there were many small groups of people who were trying the follow the social distancing guidelines.

“That’s showing that we’re trying at least,” said beachgoer Matthew Servano.

A photo of Jacksonville Beach taken on Tuesday, May 5. (WJXT)

DeSantis has been quick to praise Jacksonville’s efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

At a news conference Monday, DeSantis asked national media to apologize to the Jacksonville mayor for sensationalized reporting when Curry allowed beaches to open.

”I think apologies can be sent to the City of Jacksonville, attention Mayor Curry. You may want to cc the mayors of Neptune, Jacksonville, Atlantic Beach," he said.

As of Tuesday, Curry said, there was still no timeframe for the reopening of entertainment venues such as movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums.

“We are evaluating these things daily, and as I said yesterday, we are working with the governor in phase one as we consider what additional openings in Jacksonville may look like, but I don’t have answers to those types of facilities at this time,” he said.

The mayor said salons and barbershops could reopen during phase two, which might happen in a week or two, but he said he will continue to monitor the data coming in.

“The key thing to watch is hospitalizations to make sure hospitals can handle the caseload, and I continue to have regularly scheduled calls with hospital leadership,” Curry said.

The Florida Department of Health reported Tuesday that there have been 26 coronavirus-related deaths and 1,084 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Duval County. Curry said more than 28,000 tests have been conducted, with only 3.8% coming back positive.

Social distancing guidelines are expected to remain in place as the city and state continue efforts to reopen the economy.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.