Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he spoke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow Duval County to enter a phase two reopening from COVID-19 shutdowns or an “expansion of phase one” by next week.
During a Zoom videoconference broadcast from the Downtown Duval Public Library, Curry said his May 14 conversation with DeSantis included increasing the customer capacity at local restaurants and retail stores.
“As you see the next phase, or an expansion of this phase where we increase capacity, the feedback that I am getting from restaurants is that a 50% capacity is workable and will relieve some economic strain,” Curry said. Capacity now is 25%.
Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson posted a statement to the organization’s website May 14 that he expects DeSantis to announce phase two plans this week.
“I expect several announcements today and tomorrow regarding the continued relaunch of Florida’s economy,” Wilson wrote. “As we approach the anticipated May 18 ‘Phase 2’ of Governor DeSantis’ phased-in reopening plan, I anticipate this will allow more businesses, in more counties, to begin expanding operations, and increase existing capacity for certain industries such as Florida’s restaurants and retailers.”
The post preceded DeSantis’s announcement May 14 in Doral that Miami-Dade and Broward counties can enter phase one May 18 under the 25% capacity restrictions of restaurants and retail stores, according to Daily Record news partner News4Jax.com.
Three Southeast Florida counties were kept out of DeSantis’ phase one because 40% of Florida’s COVID-19 diagnoses have been in that region. Palm Beach County was allowed to enter phase one May 11.
Curry said his administration is drafting what a phase one expansion or phase two would include for Duval County, but the plan may not reopen everything allowed in the federal phase two guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
The White House says these venues can reopen or stay closed in phase two:
• Schools and organized youth activities, including day cares and camps can reopen.
• Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals should be prohibited. Those who do interact with residents and patients must adhere to strict protocols regarding hygiene.
• Large venues, including sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues and places of worship can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols.
• Elective surgeries can resume, as clinically appropriate, on an outpatient and inpatient basis at facilities that adhere to federal guidelines.
• Gyms can remain open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
• Bars may operate with diminished standing-room occupancy, where applicable and appropriate.
Curry said his goal is to return city employees to City Hall and government offices next week.
The mayor did not give a date when all employees would be back in place, and he called reopening public buildings “a gradual process.”
“(This) has and will never be as simple as flipping a light switch when everyone in city government returns to work as normal,” Curry said.
He said administration officials will reach out to city employees when they’re cleared to return to government offices.
Some government offices already have started to open their doors. The Duval County Tax Collector began serving customers by appointment only May 13 at its 7120 Hogan Road office in South Jacksonville.
All other locations remain closed to in-person customers, but many transactions may be completed via phone or mail.
Curry administration officials are drafting COVID-19 safety protocols, and Curry said employees will return when the policy is ready to be implemented.
“In other words, here’s what you’re not going to see next week. You’re not just going to see wide-open doors where people can be coming and going without any protocols and safe practices,” Curry said.
The mayor announced this week he is lifting his work-from-home executive order May 18 to allow nonessential Duval County businesses to begin bringing employees working remotely back into offices.
During the news conference, Curry continued his call for employers to allow their staff to work from home if possible, even with the mandate lifted, and create safety and social distancing protocols for the workplace.
Curry said the city has distributed $14.5 million of its $40 million COVID-19 Rent, Mortgage and Utilities Relief Program since the program began issuing $1,000 prepaid debit cards to Duval County residents May 4.
The mayor held his May 14 news conference at the Downtown Main Library, one of two locations where city workers process aid requests and distribute the payment cards, limited to 40,000 households.
City Council approved the cards April 27 as part of a $159 million local stimulus package funded by money the city received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
It was the first time Curry has addressed local media from outside City Hall since he declared a local state of emergency March 13 due to COVID-19.