Florida Reopens Beaches as State Records Highest New COVID-19 So Far
Beachgoers flooded the shore as beaches opened at 5pm Friday
Florida reopened its beaches to the public on Friday, on the same day the state recorded its highest number of new COVID-19 cases so far during the pandemic.
Crowds of beachgoers flooded the shore as Florida's beaches were officially opened up at 5 pm on Friday evening.
Jacksonville beaches reopened under limited hours and use restrictions, even as Florida recorded its highest single-day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases.
Enthusiastic residents were seen cheering as they ran out onto the sand after weeks of closures.
The Florida Department of Health confirmed the highest one-day number of cases on Friday, rising by 1,421 in the state.
The total number of confirmed cases in Florida is now at 24,753, while the death toll has reached 726, an increase of 58 in the last 24 hours.
Jacksonville's beaches will be open daily from 6 am to 11 am and 5 pm to 8 pm for exercise such as walking and swimming only, according to The Daily Mail.
Banned are sunbathing, chairs, towels, or loitering on the shore, and beachgoers are required to remain six feet apart.
By 8 pm on Friday night, many had already left the beach - adhering to the curfew.
"If for some reason it turns to helter-skelter, we're going to pull the plug again," Mayor Lenny Curry warned on Friday.
Curry said he is letting the public back onto Duval County beaches because he is "encouraged" by the rate of infections and hospitalizations and said there is evidence they are flattening the curve.
"This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life," he said on Thursday.
"Please respect and follow these limitations.
"Stay within the guidelines for your safety as well as for the safety of your neighbors."
On Thursday, Trump laid out his three-phase plan for re-opening states one by one if they show falling case numbers.
However, the guidelines did not specifically address how to handle outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches.
Florida officials were criticized early on in the pandemic for not closing the beaches during spring break.
Shocking photos from March show huge crowds frolicking on the sand and ignoring social distancing advice.
Mayor Curry's move means residents can go for a walk, swim, surf, run or fish, as long as they adhering to social distancing guidelines.
However, sunbathing, camping overnight and gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned.
People have also been warned to enter the water at their own risk as lifeguards will not be on duty.
Jacksonville is one of the first major metropolitan areas to open its beaches.
Santa Cruz in California also lifted restrictions to allow surfing for the first time since a lockdown was implemented.
Most people are abiding by the rules of no sunbathing, no using towels or chairs. But..if you don’t, police will warn you of the limitations in place. @FCN2go pic.twitter.com/O46zms40u7— Troy Kless (@TroyKless) April 17, 2020
Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said: "If we have to close the beach again, we'll do it. Safety is still our top priority."
"This not a time to lounge. This is not a time to party," Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser added.
"This is a time to exercise and keep moving."
Neighboring St Johns County announced that its beaches will also be open from 6 am to 12 pm, seven days a week, under similar restrictions that only allow exercise.
Most other Florida counties have kept their beaches closed in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.
Beaches in Glynn County over the state line in Georgia have been open since April 3 for exercise only.
It follows statements from the Trump administration, alongside the president's three-phase plan, outlining how re-openings will begin at a local rather than national level.
Nationwide, a total of 4,951 Americans died in the 24-hour period ending at 8 pm Thursday, an announcement which came just minutes after the president delivered remarks to the nation about the need to reopen as quickly as possible.
Trump declared the nation is in the "process" of winning the war against the coronavirus, and announced the new phased return toward normalcy last night, even as deaths and infections in the nation continued to rise.
The reopening of the beaches in Jackson was deemed premature by some.
"This is really a crazy bad idea," Jacksonville resident Deborah Melvin told ABC News.
"I'm afraid. I'm afraid for myself. I'm afraid for my family.
"Everybody should use their common sense."
On Friday morning, the head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Robert Redfield, indicated that the first openings might come not on a state-by-state basis but county-by-county.
"There's a number of jurisdictions that are very close to having that capability," he said.
The guidelines state that an area must show declining infection over 14 days. Redfield added Friday that it must be declining "consistently."
He said it was "really, really important that the outbreak in these jurisdictions is really declining consistently over a two-week period" for reopening to occur.
But he said there are currently a number of jurisdictions with "have limited activity" for the spread of the disease.
Redfield pointed to the ability to conduct rapid testing and contact-tracing, as well as being able to test individuals who present a "flu-like" illness.
It was not immediately clear which jurisdictions, if any, have that capability now.
Among the first states to move to Phase One appear to be states led by Republican governors.
Axios reported that Texas and Florida would "set the standard" for reopening.