Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry surprised even members of the City Council with his decision to re-open beaches Friday evening.
Just hours before the official reopening at 5 P.M., Curry took to Twitter to plead with locals to follow social-distancing guidelines on the beach.
“Don’t ruin this for everyone,” Curry warned.
“We remain under a State and local safer at home order. Limited access to beaches/ parks is for recreational activities only. No chairs, coolers, sitting/groups congregating. Public safety workers will break up groups. Use these spaces responsibly,” Curry warned.
On Thursday, Curry announced his decision to reopen beaches, with some conditions applying.
Users, according to the release from the Mayor’s Office, must be “participating in recreational activities consistent with social distancing guidelines such as walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing.”
Sunbathing, boozing and other elements of beach blanket bacchanalia are strictly forbidden.
As well, beaches are only open for eight hours a day: 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. each morning, and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each evening.
The decision to reopen the beach was not universally hailed.
City Council member Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a Democrat who has worked with the Mayor’s office on some issues since she was elected last year, broke with the administration over beach reopenings.
“Selective decisions of what’s open & the hours clearly indicate which neighbors matter most…6-11 a.m. & 5-8 p.m. are traditional working hours for many who may be out of work now. Hopefully the mail will deliver folks’ unemployment checks those hours too,” Priestly-Jackson contended.
These comments were not warmly received in the Mayor’s Office.
Nonetheless, the beach reopening in Duval continues a trend of Northeast Florida leaders looking to get past the coronavirus and into recovery.
Earlier this week, commissioners in St. Johns County, directly to the south of Duval County, heard evidence that perhaps the worst of the coronavirus is over for them.
County Administrator Hunter S. Conrad said there was a “downward trend” in new cases, adding that “further decisions” could be made at the “discretion” of the commission next week, presumably to reopen the county’s beaches.
St. Johns County closed beaches nine days after Duval last month, and it’s possible their reopening could be without the conditions imposed in Duval.
In Northeast Florida as elsewhere, there has been a balancing act between public safety and calming a restive population amidst shutdown orders and economic dislocation.
Reopening beaches and parks is the first step toward normalcy.