JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — Go to the beaches at your own risk. That’s the message from Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham for anyone planning on going to the beach this holiday weekend.
Duval County beaches will remain open over the 4th of July holiday, but Latham said it’ll be virtually impossible for the city to enforce social distancing.
It’s difficult to imagine a 4th without fireworks on the beach but this year that’s not the only thing that will be missing.
People won’t be able to drink inside bars and restaurants still need to keep an eye on capacity limits.
Because of the changes, Jacksonville Beach Police Commander Mark Evans said they’re expecting to get a lot of house party complaints.
“We’re going to make sure they’re in compliance if they have alcohol the alcohol has to remain on private property,” said Evans. “We’re also working on a contingency plan because we are expecting large house parties.”
Latham said he and other beach leaders discussed potentially closing the beaches but decided to stay open.
“If we don’t do it First Street is going to be so packed that it’s going to be worse than if the beach were open,” said Latham.
Earlier this week Latham said that Mayor Lenny Curry asked hospital leadership on behalf of the beaches if they needed to close, he said it was a unanimous “no”.
Beach leaders also weighed the economic impact of closing on such a busy holiday.
“Our local restaurants and retail shops, they’d like to be able to capture some of that revenue,” said Latham.
But Latham recognizes that social distancing will be difficult to achieve if they experience last year’s crowds.
“If it were me, I wouldn’t take my family down onto the beach but that’s me,” said Latham.
At least six Florida counties have decided to close beaches this weekend to prevent mass gatherings.
But the fact that local beaches are remaining open is welcome news for Southern Kitchen & Bar’s General Manager Jeff Standridge.
“We’ve been following all the protocols, we’re keeping the tables 6 feet apart, all the staff is wearing masks, we’re checking temperatures constantly throughout the day,” said Standridge.
But Standridge admits his expectations are low for this weekend.
He says the recent outbreak at the beaches has affected business. He’s also trying to hire for various positions, but it’s been difficult to fill them.
“We expect people to go to the beaches as long as they’re open, we just don’t expect a lot of people still to be coming out here until this thing starts tapering down,” said Standridge.
Since fireworks won’t be visible from the beach this year, leaders are hoping that’ll be one deterrent to keep crowds at a minimum.
“I hope commonsense is more of the deterrent, I hope people recognize the fact that they have to take more responsibility for themselves,” said Latham.
We’re now halfway through 2020 but the thought of another six months to go in what’s already been a tough year, is beginning to weigh heavy on local businesses.
“I guess beat down are the words that best describe me right now until we get a little bit better and get some good news,” said Standridge.
Latham said leaders will monitor the crowds this weekend. He said a beaches closure isn’t completely off the table.
“If people completely ignore us and come down here in mass and turn it into one big brouhaha we may very well shut it down close the beach and tell everybody to go home,” said Latham.
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