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Jacksonville Mayor Responds To National Criticism For Reopening Beaches


How quickly should America open up? That debate is playing out in the White House briefing room, on social media and in cities around the country. Take Jacksonville, Fla. It closed its beaches a month ago to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And this weekend, they opened back up. Almost immediately, a national backlash erupted. The #FloridaMorons started trending on Twitter. Now the mayor is defending his decision. We are joined by reporter Sky Lebron of member station WJCT in Jacksonville.

Good to have you here.

SKY LEBRON, BYLINE: Hey. How's it going, Ari?

SHAPIRO: All right. Why did the mayor decide to reopen Jacksonville's beaches?

LEBRON: Well, I think part of it is he was getting a lot of pressure from the beach culture here in Jacksonville. And in Florida, in general, a lot of Floridians think it's super-important to be near the beach and near the water. So when that was closed down, it wasn't in the best interest of a lot of people. Mayor Lenny Curry said when he closed the beaches - he said this today - that it cluttered roads that ran parallel to the beaches with bikers and runners who move just a block away to exercise, and that was creating different kinds of enforcement problems. But there was a larger point he was trying to make as well. He says that people can't remain confined forever. They have to be able to do things. So with the beach openings, there's been a lot of policies that have been instilled. When you are on the beach, you're not allowed to stay still. You can't spread out a towel and lie down. You can run. You can swim. You can surf. But you just really can't stop moving.

SHAPIRO: Just another place to exercise then - all right, so the mayor had a news conference earlier today. And what did he say about it?

LEBRON: Well, Mayor Curry - seeing all the backlash, he defended his decision. He thanked the local media for what he called objective coverage of the situation. He complained about the national media for what he called sensationalized headlines. And here he is talking about that now.


LENNY CURRY: I'm not going to make decisions based on how I think. Critics outside of this city or certain news outlets are going to react and talk about us.

LEBRON: But, Ari, the mayor did address testing for the coronavirus, which he stressed. In Jacksonville, like many other cities, it's nowhere near where it needs to be to fully understand how pervasive the coronavirus is. Jacksonville has conducted, right now, 17,000 tests in a metro area of almost a million people.

SHAPIRO: And is it correct that the state of Florida does not have a statewide policy on beaches - which ones are closed and which ones are open?

LEBRON: Yeah, that's right. It's been more of a county-by-county decision. Gov. Ron DeSantis has kind of been hands-off with it. In fact, I'm sure you saw the picture of the St. Johns County beach completely crowded. It was a few weeks ago. And then on that county line, you saw Duval County was completely empty because they had already closed down their beaches. So DeSantis has been letting local officials dictate how they want to run their counties. And even today he tweeted his support at Jacksonville's mayor and how his community has seen declining hospitalizations and fatalities from coronavirus.

SHAPIRO: Jacksonville is not the only American town to have reopened its beaches. Why do you think there was such a national outcry directed at this city in particular?

LEBRON: You know, Ari, I think that's a really good question. Nationwide, there are still many parks and lakes and beaches that are open right now. In fact, just north of Jacksonville, in Glynn County, Ga., beaches were reopened a couple weeks ago. And there was little to no outrage about that decision, so it's hard to say why the outrage has bubbled up here. But maybe it's because Florida often generates this kind of attention and is kind of picked at by the national media pretty often.

SHAPIRO: That is Sky Lebron of member station WJCT in Jacksonville, Fla.

Thanks for speaking with us.

LEBRON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.