Florida reopens some beaches as state begins to loosen coronavirus restrictions

Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the green light on Friday for local leaders to reopen parts of the coast despite concerns over the continuing coronavirus outbreak.
/ Source: NBC News

Some Florida residents returned to the beaches Friday after Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the green light to reopen parts of the coast despite the continuing coronavirus outbreak.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham, Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown and Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser said their beaches would reopen exclusively for exercise, not tanning or congregating in large groups.

“Just to be clear, this is an opportunity for people to come out to the beach to exercise a couple of times a day. It’s not a sunbathing opportunity,” Latham said in a statement.

Florida officials were criticized early into the COVID-19 outbreak after images emerged of spring breakers drinking and partying on the state's beaches. One 22-year-old man who initially boasted about breaking social distancing rules later apologized and said he wasn't "aware of the severity of my actions."

DeSantis also came under attack for refusing to close beaches last month despite a growing outbreak. Less than a week later, Florida closed state parks after coronavirus cases increased.

The state has more than 24,000 confirmed cases and 686 deaths, according to NBC News counts.

On Friday, DeSantis told local leaders they were free to reopen beaches as long as social distancing guidelines were enforced.

The beaches will open every day from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. They will be closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

First responders and lifeguards will patrol beaches and access points to enforce guidelines. Coolers, chairs, blankets, towels and grills are not permitted. Surfing and swimming are allowed but not sunbathing.

“We can't stress enough that how long the beaches will stay open will be 100 percent determined by the beachgoers," Latham said. "As long as everyone complies by the times, guidelines, the social distancing, we will be okay. We want you to be able to use the beach as an asset and enjoy yourself, but we have to maintain the safety factor.”