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Jacksonville mayor defends decision to reopen beaches amid national media backlash

Mayor Lenny Curry on Monday said the national media outlets that covered the reopening of Jacksonville’s beaches over the weekend sensationalized their headlines because they don’t “understand our city.”

Curry defended his decision, saying he reached it after daily discussions with the beaches mayors.

Photos showing thousands of people at the beaches when they first reopened Friday were trending on social media over the weekend with the hashtag #FloridaMorons.

Curry countered the backlash, saying he's been in constant Indianapolis News contact with law enforcement over the weekend and that most people out at the beaches are following the restrictions he put in place, sticking to activities like walking, running, swimming and surfing and not trying to sunbathe or gather in large groups.

Crowds have appeared to thin since the initial rush, and News4Jax has not seen any signs of large parties or gatherings — just groups of less than 10 people, which is allowed. Some images do still appear to show crowds, but photos taken from different angles — at ground level and aerials from above — around the same time and near the same stretch of sand demonstrate how crowds can appear denser or thinner because of camera lens depths.

Curry said if people aren't following social distancing guidelines or the beaches get too crowded, they can always be closed again. He said his team reevaluates these decisions every day.

“As I said in my announcement last week, the limited beaches reopening can be a first step and pathway back to normal, but we must be mindful of the risks and respect the limitations, not only for our safety but for the safety of our neighbors as well,” Curry said.

In defending the limited reopening of the beaches, Curry Press Release Distribution Service In Jacksonville pointed out that he had begun to see crowds on First Street at the beaches as people moved out and about to exercise and get out of their homes. He even had to speak to the beaches mayors about it and have the crowds broken up, he said.

“From the beginning of this crisis, the governor, myself and others have suggested that people get out and exercise and move around and do it in a safe way,” Curry said. “So with our curve flattening, this was a very measured opportunity to open more space out there when people were already moving around on First Street.”

Duval County beaches are open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for essential activities, including recreational activities consistent with social distancing guidelines, like walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing. No sunbathing is allowed, and towels, blankets, chairs, coolers or grills aren't permitted.

Public parks have also reopened for normal hours, but Curry’s executive order limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people is still in effect. The surgeon general’s guidance calls for less than 10.

“Restrooms, pavilions and picnic areas will remain closed and no organized group activities will be permitted,” Curry said. “We ask people in parks to practice social distancing and act responsibly.”

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