Mayor to allow gradual opening of nonessential businesses

Mayor to allow gradual opening of nonessential businesses
Restrictions end on hotels and lodging; beaches to open all day May 4

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is eager to take the next step to get his city “gradually and cautiously” back to work.

During a ZOOM press conference April 28, Curry announced that he is amending his executive order to allow Jacksonville’s beaches to be open all day starting on Monday, May 4. He is also repealing an executive order, which closed hotels and lodging establishments to everyone except first responders and other essential personnel, and he has advised retail, lodging and restaurant owners to begin formulating plans so they can resume operations that incorporate proper social distancing and CDC sanitation guidelines in early May.

Curry was quick to say that until April 30, the city remained under Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s stay-at-home order, but that once he learned whether DeSantis intends on allowing the order to expire, extend, or amend it, he will be able to provide a timeline and plan to get nonessential businesses back to work.

On April 29, DeSantis held a press conference where he said he is softening stay-at-home restrictions across the state but maintaining tougher limits in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Among the changes the rest of the state can enjoy are allowing restaurants to serve diners outdoors and have indoor dining at 25% capacity and permitting health care providers to begin doing elective procedures. In learning of the governor’s plan for Florida’s recovery, Curry said in a press release April 29 that he was ready to begin creating a roadmap for a similar “phased approach that is safe, smart, and ready to guide us, step-by-step, back to the life we knew before the virus.” 

During the April 28 press conference, the mayor also signed into law City Council legislation that approved Ordinance 2020-235, which allocates $159 million in federal dollars to support COVID-19 response efforts and provide funding for individual Jacksonville citizens that have been hard hit by the Coronavirus crisis. The ordinance includes allowing the city to provide individual assistance to its residents and to expand Coronavirus testing in Duval County.

As of the morning of April 28, the Florida Department of Health reported 1,001 positive cases of COVID-19, with Duval County logging 101 hospitalizations and 20 deaths, Curry said, noting Jacksonville’s percentage of the positive test results was 4.5%, a number that has steadily declined during the past three weeks. “Because of the positive direction of these trends, I am taking the next steps to get our city gradually and cautiously back to work,” Curry said. 

The executive order closing hotels and lodging establishments was enacted weeks ago when Florida was inundated with out-of-state tourists, many who were enjoying Spring break in South Florida, he said. “To keep our county’s hotel and lodging establishments from being overwhelmed by these individuals, I issued Executive Order 20-4 restricting the kind of lodgers they can accommodate. That is no longer a threat we face,” he said, adding that he will work with leadership from Visit Jacksonville and the lodging industry so that the hotels can be opened up in a “safe and sensible” way.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s beaches can be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day with the same restrictions on allowed activities consistent with social distancing that are already in place. Only recreational activities such as walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, walking pets and surfing will be allowed he said. “This is not a time to gather in groups. This is for exercise. No congregating on walkways or cross overs. No sunbathing, towels, blankets, coolers or grills will be allowed. The three beaches’ mayors and I are grateful the public has responded to the restrictions in the past, and we ask them to continue to do so and not ruin this for everyone,” he said.

Curry said he is hopeful he can announce more detailed information about the opening of nonessential businesses and have a timeline ready, maybe as early as May 2. It may take more time for the city to devise safety guidelines for larger venues and nonessential businesses such as movie theaters, gymnasiums, and hair and nail salons, he said. “It is my hope and intention that certain nonessential businesses return to business next week with strict social distancing guidelines,” he said, noting his team updates the recovery resources page on the city website at\recoveryresources. The website includes information on social services, financial relief, mental health, counseling, trauma support and disaster loans.

“When we roll it out, it will be locked down and solid with guidelines,” Curry explained. “We need to give people time to prepare. If we learn something (from the governor) today, it will be earlier next week. If we don’t learn something until Thursday (April 30), it will be later next week, but the goal is to get a significant number of nonessential businesses back to work next week,” he said.

Coronavirus testing

Ordinance 2020-235 is going to allow Jacksonville to “lead the way” on testing, Curry said. “We will be able to significantly expand our testing operations for the next six months, which will provide the critical data we need moving forward in the days and weeks ahead,” he said. 

As for the individual assistance, Curry said city employees are in training so that the process to review the applications and distribute the payment cards to citizens will proceed smoothly. He said he would have more information about how citizens can apply for the money by May 1.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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