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Crowds returned to beaches in Jacksonville Friday after Florida’s governor gave the green light for some to reopen if done safely – as the state confirmed a spike in its coronavirus cases.
Cheers could be heard at 5 p.m. when barriers to Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach came down. Hundreds of people were subsequently pictured enjoying their newfound freedom.
The beaches are reopening with restricted hours and can only be used for walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing, according to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. They will be open from 6 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. and gatherings of more than 10 people – not 50 as was previously announced – are prohibited.
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“Folks, this could be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life, but please respect and follow these limitations,” Curry said. “We’ll get back to life as we know it, but we must be patient.”
The Sunshine State has been one of the worst-hit in the U.S. As of Friday evening, there were 24,753 coronavirus cases and 729 deaths, according to a tally by Fox News. It was a daily increase of 1,222.
Florida officials were criticized for leaving beaches open during part of the spring break period last month. Most counties closed their beaches in response or kept them open under very restrictive conditions. Other more high-profile beaches in south Florida — including Miami Beach — were closed by state order.
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On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said some municipalities should feel free to start opening up parks and beaches, if that can be done safely, with social distancing guidelines remaining in place.
“Do it in a good way. Do it in a safe way,” DeSantis said.
“How long these beaches remain open is 100% up to the beachgoers,” Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said. “We’re looking to keep people from accumulating out here. If they want to come out and exercise, that’s great. If we have to close the beach again, we’ll do it. Safety is still our top priority.”
Latham’s sentiments were echoed by the mayors of Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach.
“This not a time to lounge. This is not a time to party. This is a time to exercise and keep moving,” Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser said.
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Despite the mayors pleading caution, the tantalizing prospect of heading to the beach was too much for many residents.
“I’m planning on going and riding my bicycle or surfing,” Elliott Toney told News4Jax.
Adam Bruhmke told the outlet: “It’s on us as a society to follow the rules and social distancing measures, and looking around I feel like we might be in trouble of losing our privileges at the beach.”
Jacksonville resident Deborah Melvin, however, described the idea to reopen beaches as “crazy bad”.
“I’m afraid. I’m afraid for myself. I’m afraid for my family. Everybody should use their common sense,” Melvin, who has lost friends and family members to coronavirus, told ABC News.
Meanwhile, in the south end of the state, Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina announced Friday he had tested positive for coronavirus and was turning over management of the department to a deputy.
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“My symptoms are mild, my spirits are high and I have every reason to believe that I will have a full recovery,” Colina said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.