Controversy is ensuing over viral images and video showing Florida beaches swarming with crowds a mere day after Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said they could reopen based on local leaders' and counties' discretion.
The Hill reports, "Images of people flocking to beaches in the Jacksonville, Fla., area went viral on Twitter on Saturday, prompting backlash from users on the platform and the hashtag #FloridaMorons."
Among the first beaches to reopen to the public was in Jacksonville, where Mayor Lenny Curry (R) declared “This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life.”
Restrictions till required beach-goers in Jacksonville and other Florida beaches to avoid gathering in crowds, remain six feet apart from non-family members, and to avoid setting up chairs and tents.
As of Saturday Curry said residents were practicing “social distancing and responsible behavior” as he defended the move to open up the beaches.
#Florida beach is crowded within 30 MINUTES of reopening at 5pm, despite state recording 1,413 new #COVID19 cases - its highest one-day increase since the pandemic crisis began #floridabeaches #FloridaMorons #SaturdayMorning #SaturdayThoughts #StayAtHomehttps://t.co/j85ET7wcMe pic.twitter.com/Y9OTppl9Co— Evan Kirstel #StayHome #RemoteWork (@evankirstel) April 18, 2020
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is also expected to soon announce reopening of area beaches, however, the precise date is unclear, but is expected to happen this coming week.
The largely Republican decision-makers in Florida appear to be using the momentum that President Trump set in motion Thursday in announcing guidelines for a 'phased reopening' of the US economy, which ultimately gives powers to the governors to enact the steps.
As is always the case in this polarized time, not everyone was supportive of the re-opening. Lake Worth Beach City Commissioner Omari Hardy tweeted angrily (and clearly politically):
"When a person doesn’t believe in science, they do dumb things."
"When a person in power doesn't believe in science, they do dumb things that hurt the public. This move is so dumb that I had to make sure it wasn’t fake news. You guys, it isn’t fake news.”
And Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who contracted coronavirus himself, called the reopening in Jacksonville “very concerning,” adding that Florida was “not out of the woods yet” and the consequences of reopening too soon were “very, very scary.”
As of Sunday morning Florida has 25,492 COVID-19 cases with 748 reported fatalities, with most cases concentrated in Central Florida among people ages 65 and older.
Jacksonville's mayor defended the controversial move to reopen by arguing citizens can remain cautious and sensible while going back out to public venues:
Thank you Jacksonville. I appreciate your social distancing and responsible behavior as we opened our beaches for walking, swimming, running etc. No groups congregating. 5 pm to 8pm opening tonight. This is the 7pm shot from Councilman Diamond from the beach. Well done Jax https://t.co/VPVrhG40zC— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) April 18, 2020
It should be noted that the predicted explosion in numbers of cases in the South has yet to materialize on the level expected.
Thus we could see a situation in which the hard-hit tri-state area as well as places like Michigan continue to peak, while at the same time looking on southern states' earlier than expected return to relative 'normalcy'.