NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. – The Fourth of July holiday will look different with concerns over COVID-19. However, the pandemic doesn’t mean crowds are expected stay away from popular spots including Jacksonville-area beaches, which saw a sharp rise in cases during June.
Coronavirus concerns prompted Jacksonville Beach City Council members to cancel Independence Day fireworks, worried about attracting to many people to view the show.
However, police departments in the area are getting ready for a large number of visitors, asking them to be extra careful this year.
Supervisors at all three police departments -- Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach -- said all officers will be on duty, and that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office will send officers for additional support.
“We experience a large, large increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic,” said Neptune Beach Police Commander Michael Key.
The small city of Neptune Beach is among the hotspots for beachgoers, partygoers and large crowds. This year, police are working to make sure people keep their distance.
“Our main mission is to encourage and to educate people about social distancing,” Key said. “We placed signs at every intersection, brightly colored, encouraging folks to maintain social distance, to not get in those compact crowds.”
Police won’t allow cars along 1st Street from Thursday through Sunday so that pedestrians and bicyclists will have more room to move about. Key said officers are encouraged to wear masks when around groups of people and are required to wear them when in close contact with someone in custody.
Bars across Florida are closed, but restaurants can be open and are permitted to serve alcohol with capacity limits. The beaches cities, part of Duval County, do have the indoor mask mandate from Jacksonville, which Mayor Lenny Curry enacted Monday afternoon.
“This particular year, we’re planning for the worst and we’re going to hope for the best,” said Commander Mark Evans with the Jacksonville Beach Police Department. “We’re not sure what to expect.”
Jacksonville Beach police expect the most visitors. They’ll have a command post set up while officers are patrolling the streets, looking for alcohol violations and unruly house parties.
“If we get complaints, the officers are going to go and they’ll make that determination once they arrive,” Evans said.
Officers do have masks and new safety protocols in place. However, they’re asking people to look out for each other and enjoy the holiday responsibly.
“If you see something, say something,” Key said. “That model is proven. It takes everyone to be engaged in safety. If they see some type of potential hazard, pick up the phone, dial us. Call somebody and let them know about that potential hazard.”
Key said fireworks that shoot off the ground aren’t allowed and are subject to a $50 fine.
While some beaches in South Florida are closed due to the pandemic, the three mayors of the Jacksonville-area beaches said they have no plans to shut down beach access during the holiday, however, they agree “nothing is off the table.”
In June, two Neptune Beach police officers tested positive for the coronavirus. Seven others were quarantined as a precaution. Key said the two sick officers are recovering and should be back on duty soon after additional negative test results.
Evans said no Jacksonville Beach patrol officers have reported cases.
Atlantic Beach Police Commander Tiffany Layson said her department did not have any reported positive cases.