Duval County’s phase one reopening mirrors Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s statewide plan to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions on retailers and restaurants beginning May 4.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry laid out the approach during an April 30 news conference. It will allow restaurant dining areas and retail stores to reopen at 25% capacity.
The reopenings must follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing.
Gyms, movie theaters and personal services businesses, like hair salons and barbers, will remain closed.
Curry said he will amend his executive order that limited public spaces to 50 people to match DeSantis’s 25% building capacity rule.
“The governor has taken the lead to reopen in a thoughtful and methodical way. I’m certainly not prepared to get ahead of the advice he’s getting on the safest way to reopen at this point,” Curry said.
For businesses whose employees can work remotely, Curry’s work-from-home order remains in effect through the phase one reopening, city officials said.
“If you can perform your job duties from home, you should continue to do so for now,” Curry said.
DeSantis released details of his phase one recovery strategy April 29. Parts of South Florida will remain closed as the rest of the state eases the restrictions.
The governor’s plan is based on guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the federal Opening Up America Again plan, which calls for a three-phase reopening from the pandemic shutdown.
In addition to capacity restrictions, the governor’s order recommends continued social distancing in public.
Restaurants opening indoor and outdoor seating will be required to have 6 feet of space between tables.
DeSantis said Floridians should continue to avoid groups of more than 10 people and face masks are recommended.
Curry’s plan follows that model.
DeSantis urged city and local governments not to supersede his executive order by continuing economic restrictions. He said that with physicians at Cleveland Clinic, Orlando Health and Tampa General said Florida coronavirus infections have peaked, and he believes it would be counter to “personal freedoms” and the economic interests of city’s to remain under lockdown.
Vacation rentals will remain closed statewide. However, hotels and motels in Duval County can begin to book guests beyond emergency workers and people responding to COVID-19, Curry said April 30.
‘An incremental step’
Curry said phase one is “an incremental step forward” and he would speak with the governor “in the near term” about possibly reopening more businesses in Duval, such as gyms, barbers, hair salons and personal services.
“I’m open to a discussion with the governor as we get through this week about tailoring some things to Duval County, based on our experience of flattening the curve,” Curry said.
Shopping malls like the St. Johns Town Center and The Avenues mall can reopen May 4 at 25% capacity, Curry said.
Like any executive order, Curry said there is the option of legal enforcement. DeSantis’s order leaves the monitoring and policing of the public social distancing and business capacity restrictions to local law enforcement.
The penalty for businesses violating the statewide order is a misdemeanor charge and possible $500 fine, but Curry said he wants business owners to take responsibility rather than involve the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“We just want people to be responsible. That’s how they’ve behaved through this period of time. We’re not a police state. We’re looking to catch people trying to run businesses doing something wrong.” Curry said.
“We’re in an unprecedented crisis trying to reopen our economy thoughtfully. If people go into restaurants and feel unsafe and it doesn’t appear that (the order) is being adhered to, they’re probably going to pick up the phone and call somebody.”
Under the governor’s order, the state’s public libraries are allowed to reopen with the 25% occupancy restrictions. Curry told reporters April 30 that reopening Duval County’s public libraries and city offices is “a much bigger question.”
Curry said there is no timeline to reopen city facilities.
The mayor said there could be budgetary impacts if the city reopens public buildings too quickly. Curry said his administration is examining guidelines for city facilities under FEMA reimbursements the city is receiving.
“It’s complicated the way the funding works,” he said. “In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll be working through how we get city facilities and city employees back to work.”
City Council President Scott Wilson issued an order April 30 extending the cancellation of all Council board and commission meetings through May 31, although standing committees and the full Council will continue to meet via the video conferencing platform Zoom.
Curry said he spoke with Wilson about the decision.
“In phase one, you don’t want 19 people sitting shoulder to shoulder,” Curry said.