JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – The city of St. Augustine announced it will not hold its annual Fireworks Over the Matanzas this year, but later rescinded the decision saying the city will re-evaluate in late-May.
The 20-minute show has been held every year for longer than two decades. But due to the coronavirus pandemic and the danger of large gatherings, the city cancelled and time is running out for of other cities to decide.
With less than two months until Independence Day, Jacksonville-area leaders are having to make difficult decisions including whether or not to have fireworks shows amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a virtual briefing Monday evening, Jacksonville Beach’s city manager discussed the plans with city council members about whether to move forward with a fireworks show or to cancel it.
Jacksonville Beach City Manager Mike Staffopoulos said he was not prepared to sign the contract for the show yet. He said he was waiting for Jacksonville city leaders to make a decision.
A decision is expected to be made at the Jacksonville Beach City Council meeting on June 1.
Beachgoers will attest that the Fourth of July is extremely busy at Jacksonville-area beaches, especially when there are fireworks shows.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said surfer Neal Nordin. “It’s crowded.”
The fireworks show brings tens of thousands from all over, but this year could be different because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the state reopens partially, leaders are mulling over the best approach to the annual celebrations, which have been going on for several years after a few years without fireworks shows.
The administrative decision is ultimately in the hands of Staffopoulos, who told News4Jax Monday afternoon that has not made up his mind just yet and that’s why he said he was talking to council members to see how they feel.
The city of Jacksonville usually allocates $20,000 for the Jacksonville Beach show, but the city of Jacksonville Beach spends additional money on public safety measures, such as extra police officers, lifeguards and emergency services.
Staffopoulos added all other city-sanctioned events have been canceled through June, and he’s working to make the best decision given the current times.
Beachgoers have their own opinions.
“If people are nervous about getting sick or people with respiratory problems or anything like that, you have the choice to stay home,” said Lauren, a military member who just returned from deployment overseas. “That’s what’s great about America.”
Nordin believed it wasn’t right. “It’s too many people too soon,” he said.
“We can keep our distance, put our masks on,” said Kenza Elbakkal, who was at the beach with her family.
Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said it was a difficult decision to make because the pandemic is unprecedented and has been unpredictable. He said it’s a tough line between opening the city and minimizing health risks. He said, as of now, he has not made up his mind on where he stands on the issue.
Duval County beaches were closed to the public on March 20. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry decided to partially reopen them April 17 for limited hours and activities. They were open again 24/7 on May 4, with orders for social distancing.
Meanwhile, the city of Jacksonville is still planning to hold its fireworks show over the St. Johns River, COJ spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton said Monday afternoon.
“At this time, we are planning for fireworks on the 4th of July,” Kimbleton said. “As we get closer to the date, we will determine any necessary precautions related to COVID-19, including social distancing, in order to keep the public safe.”
In Clay County, the fireworks show at Moosehaven in Orange Park has been postponed to a later date.