JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — On Friday morning Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham, Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown, and Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser addressed the media on the details and restrictions ahead of the limited reopening of our beaches in Duval County.
All three mayors made it clear the beaches will be opening specifically for exercise and activity purposes.
“Just to be clear, this is an opportunity for people to come out to the beach to exercise a couple of times a day. It’s not a sunbathing opportunity,” Latham said.
Beach law enforcement agencies, lifeguards and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue will be working together to enforce the rules.
The beaches will reopen Friday evening in a limited capacity then be open every day from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The beaches will be closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. First responders and lifeguards will be actively patrolling the beaches and access points to enforce the guidelines.
The following is a list of what is NOT allowed on the beach at this time:
The beaches are reopening for people to be able to "move" and get out and enjoy the sunshine by either walking, jogging, running, biking or fishing.
Latham said surfing and swimming will also be allowed during these limited hours, but he warned that people will do so as their own risk since they are still not outfitted with enough lifeguards for what would be the typical summer hours.
If someone does surf or swim during these hours, he urges them to do so in front of one of the lifeguards who will be present, even if there aren't as many as usual.
Jacksonville Beach parking will only be available on the west side of 1st Street. All public parking will be closed east of 1st Street. Latham urged out of town guests to use public parking and to avoid residential areas as much as possible.
“We can't stress enough that how long the beaches will stay open will be 100% determined by the beachgoers," he said. "As long as everyone complies by the times, guidelines, the social distancing, we will be okay. We want you to be able to use the beach as an asset and enjoy yourself, but we have to maintain the safety factor.”
He emphasized the fact that the 'safer at home' order is still in effect, as well as the restriction to no more than 10 people together at a time and six feet distance from others at all times.
During this limited opening, Latham said dog walking will be allowed anytime the beach is open during this time, as long as the dog is on a leash and they are there with their owner for exercise purposes.
He said they designated the two limited time periods and limited public parking to specifically prevent the crowds from getting too large.
They are preventing any kind of sunbathing in an effort to avoid the accumulation of people.
They will follow a 'three strikes you're out" policy with anyone who doesn't follow the guidelines: First, they will inform the individual of the rules, Second, they will issue a warning, Lastly, law enforcement will take additional action if the individual still does not comply.
“I think the most important thing, the message from all three beaches right now, is to understand to keep moving," said Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown. "This isn’t a day at the beach as normal. This is the first step if you would, to make sure we are doing something that adds to the exercise for people, getting out of the house to do something healthy for them. If it becomes anything else we will have to revert back.”
Brown said people should see this is a good thing because it is the first phase of getting back to some normalcy, as long as people follow the rules.
She said if the public does not cooperate they will be endangering our first responders and lifeguards. For that reason, people "must disperse" and keep their distance.
“Let's face it, we all want to see some normalcy come back to our lives. This is a first step in the cooperation of the public with the recreation we have here at the beach," said Brown. "Let's see if we can pull it off together. Pulling it off together and abiding by the guidelines is the only way we can keep it open.”
Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser said this was not a decision they made on a whim. They analyze the new data daily, consult health experts and constantly discuss with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.
“Our numbers have remained relatively flat for the last week or so, and so this is a matter of risk management," Glasser said. "The beaches have been closed for several weeks and there is an impact on sustained beach closures in terms of people’s mental health and exercise.”
Glasser said exercise is covered on the list of "essential" activities on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' guidelines.
“My message is that this is not just a police problem, this is not just a government problem, it is for the community to step up and do the right thing," she said. "Don’t rush the beaches today at 5 o'clock. Be mindful of the risks that you take when you pass through shared access points.”
The mayors said this is not an invitation for people to lounge or party, but rather for people to enjoy some sunshine for their own health, and to "keep moving and then go home".
They also pointed out the building congestion of runners, walkers and bikers on 1st Street. They hope this limited opening of the beaches for exercise will alleviate those crowds.
People who are 65 years of age and older and people with underlying conditions are urged to take extra precautions since they are still the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“This is a time to be together as a community, not to snipe at each other,” said Glasser.
Latham said, after much planning, they are "cautiously optimistic" to start this small portion of the recovery phase.
“Work with us to follow the rules so we can leave this resource open for you, but for some reason, if it turns into helter-skelter we will pull the plug again and we don’t want to see that any more than you do," said Latham.
He said they will regulate the number of people coming on to the beach. When data starts to show a bigger recover he said they will respond accordingly, but for now, he said: "This is not us going back to normal".
Latham reminded the community that they have honed through hurricanes together so they understand when life is not "normal", but that since it's been more than 100 years since there was a global pandemic, "we are going through this together".
As a final reminder, Brown said "these are not normal circumstances"; these are special limited circumstances and they will monitor it closely. She said if they cannot maintain positive control they will shut it down again.
Additionally, the City of Jacksonville reminds the public of the following:
Parks that are owned and operated by the City of Jacksonville will resume normal hours starting at 5 p.m. Friday, April 17. However, Mayor Curry’s Executive Order that limits gatherings to fewer than 50 people, still stands. In addition:
- City of Jacksonville golf courses will reopen during normal operating hours, but individuals must follow social distancing requirements
- No overnight camping at Hanna or Huguenot parks is permitted
- Playground amenity usage must follow social distancing requirements
- No organized group activities are permitted – this includes picnics or gatherings, team sports, or any type of group activity
- All park restroom facilities will remain closed
- Pavilions and picnic areas will remain closed