The scene at Jacksonville Beach wasn’t one of caution in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Crowds cheered and flooded the beach when police took the barriers down. People were seen swimming, biking, surfing, running and fishing.
Social distancing seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s mind Friday. Some residents told CNN not being able to go to the beach was “torture.” People were out with their towels, coolers and sunbathing. There were very few masks.
Beaches will be open from 6 to 11 a.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m. daily with some restrictions, according to Jacksonville’s website. Recreational activities such as running, biking, hiking and swimming will be permitted during this soft reopening, the city’s website said.
Despite the scene at the beach Friday, the city’s website said activities such as sunbathing or any type of group activity will not be allowed at beaches during the restricted hours and items like towels, blankets, chairs, coolers and grills will not be permitted on the beach.
“This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life,” Mayor Lenny Curry said. “Please respect and follow these limitations. Stay within the guidelines for your safety as well as for the safety of your neighbors.”
People were excited to be able to get back out onto the sand.
“I’m planning on going and riding my bicycle or surfing,” Elliott Toney told CNN affiliate WJXT
But not everyone thought reopening the beaches was a good idea.
“There’s a potential for the virus to blow into the air, so I think it’s a risk,” Lisa Mancini told the affiliate.
Officials aren’t afraid to pull the plug on beachgoers if they don’t abide by the social distancing rules and beach restrictions, Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser said at a press conference Friday.
“This not a time to lounge. This is not a time to party. This is a time where you need to exercise, keep moving and then go home,” Glasser said.
Parks will resume regular hours but the city’s order limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people remains in effect.
Gov. Ron DeSantis was criticized back in March for his handling of spring break and not closing the beaches sooner. As a result, he issued a “Safer at Home” order that went into effect April 3 and is in effect until April 30. The order limits movement outside homes to providing or getting essential services or carrying out essential activities and applies to interaction with other people outside of residents’ homes.
DeSantis supported the idea of reopening beaches, parks and other public spaces as long as social distancing is practiced, WJXT reported.
“You look at how this disease is transmitted, it’s transmitted overwhelmingly when you are in close, sustained contact with people, usually in an indoor environment,” DeSantis said. “Going forward, we got to be promoting people to get exercise, do it in a good way, to do it in a safe way.”