While other major U.S. cities have announced an extension to stay-at-home orders into mid-May, Jacksonville could be headed in the opposite direction.
At a virtual press conference Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced he is assembling a team to plan the best way to reopen the economy in Duval County.
Hours later, city officials announced the beaches and public parks in Duval County will reopen on Friday, April 17, for "essential" recreational activities only in mornings and evenings.
Beaches will be open from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m. and from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. They will be closed all other times.
Large group gatherings still won't be permitted, but activities like walking, swimming, fishing and surfing will be allowed.
Items that won't be allowed at the beaches include towels, coolers, grills, tents, blankets and other items that could keep people stationary.
Curry said large concerts, festivals and gatherings should not be expected to return soon.
Curry said his task force on reopening the economy will consist of health experts,and local business and government leaders. Curry said he’ll announce the team next week.
“There's a number of things we need to do,” Curry said. “One is when we do reopen, we open in a way that is safe. And what that looks like will probably include testing and a number of other public health things.”
Gov. DeSantis’ statewide safer-at-home order remains in effect until April 30.
Curry said the number of hospitalizations in Duval County has been stabilizing over the past two weeks.
“The data seems to indicate we are near our peak and hospitalizations at a level [of] manageability below our local capacity,” Curry said.
Still, Curry is imploring citizens to maintain social distancing measures and to wear masks in public.
Curry said he is in constant communication with DeSantis as the mayor re-evaluates his local executive orders.
Around 240 businesses have been approved for over $8 million as part of the city’s and VyStar Credit Union’s loan relief program.
According to Curry, over 70% of the businesses who have applied for loans through the program have been approved.
"These numbers sound great, but remember, these are faces and real people behind these numbers,” Curry said.
Curry also signed the referendum on the Duval Schools half-cent sales tax that the City Council approved earlier this week. The tax will officially be on November’s ballot.
Councilman Matt Carlucci said the tax, if approved, will help much more than the school system.
“When the half-penny becomes effective, it's gonna create thousands of jobs in our community through the building and remodeling of our school facilities,” Carlucci said.
Duval County School Board Chair Warren Jones said the tax is much-needed.
“We have over 121 schools that are 50 years old or older,” Jones said. “We know that, and we know that that environment is not the best for our students.”
Meanwhile, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said that domestic violence in the community has risen by 20%.
“That's obviously a direct result of the quarantining people, you know, spending that extra time together,” Williams said.
Williams said his officers are spending more time trying to de-escalate situations.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.