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Crowds flock to Jacksonville beaches; model significantly lowers Florida’s expected coronavirus death toll

Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox.  Sign up here.Crowds returned to beaches in Jacksonville Friday after Florida’s governor gave the green light for some to reopen if done safely – as a new model significantly dropped the number of forecasted fatalities in the Sunshine State.Cheers could be heard at…

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Crowds returned to beaches in Jacksonville Friday after Florida’s governor gave the green light for some to reopen if done safely – as a new model significantly dropped the number of forecasted fatalities in the Sunshine State.

Cheers could be heard at 5 p.m. when barriers to Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach came down. Hundreds of people were subsequently pictured enjoying their newfound freedom.

People crowded the beaches in its first open hour on April 17, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Fl. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry opened the beaches to residents for limited activities for the first time in weeks since closing them to the public due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Jacksonville Beach became the first beach in the country to reopen. 

People crowded the beaches in its first open hour on April 17, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Fl. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry opened the beaches to residents for limited activities for the first time in weeks since closing them to the public due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Jacksonville Beach became the first beach in the country to reopen. 
(Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The beaches are reopening with restricted hours and can only be used for walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing, according to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. They will be open from 6 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. and gatherings of more than 10 people – not 50 as was previously announced – are prohibited.

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“Folks, this could be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life, but please respect and follow these limitations,” Curry said. “We’ll get back to life as we know it, but we must be patient.”

Florida has been one of the worst-hit states in the U.S. As of Friday evening, there were 24,753 coronavirus cases, a daily increase of 1,222; and 729 deaths.

But on Friday, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation changed its model for Florida, forecasting that the state will have 1,363 deaths from coronavirus, compared to an earlier projection of 4,748 earlier this week.

The model says Florida has already passed its peak deaths per day and peak hospital resource use. Previously, that had been project to happen in early May.

The U.S. as a whole is predicted to reach 60,308 deaths by August 4, according to the model, lowering the prediction of 68,841 from earlier this week.

Florida officials were criticized for leaving beaches open during part of the spring break period last month. Most counties closed their beaches in response or kept them open under very restrictive conditions. Other more high-profile beaches in south Florida — including Miami Beach — were closed by state order.

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On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said some municipalities should feel free to start opening up parks and beaches, if that can be done safely, with social distancing guidelines remaining in place.

“Do it in a good way. Do it in a safe way,” DeSantis said.

“How long these beaches remain open is 100% up to the beachgoers,” Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said. “We’re looking to keep people from accumulating out here. If they want to come out and exercise, that’s great. If we have to close the beach again, we’ll do it. Safety is still our top priority.”

A group of people play volleyball on the beach in its first open hour on April 17, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Fl. 

A group of people play volleyball on the beach in its first open hour on April 17, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Fl. 
(David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Latham’s sentiments were echoed by the mayors of Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach.

“This not a time to lounge. This is not a time to party. This is a time to exercise and keep moving,” Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser said.

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Despite the mayors pleading caution, the tantalizing prospect of heading to the beach was too much for many residents.

“I’m planning on going and riding my bicycle or surfing,” Elliott Toney told News4Jax.

Despite the mayors pleading caution, the tantalizing prospect of heading to the beach was too much for many residents.
(David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Adam Bruhmke told the outlet: “It’s on us as a society to follow the rules and social distancing measures, and looking around I feel like we might be in trouble of losing our privileges at the beach.”

Jacksonville resident Deborah Melvin, however, described the idea to reopen beaches as “crazy bad”.

“I’m afraid. I’m afraid for myself. I’m afraid for my family. Everybody should use their common sense,” Melvin, who has lost friends and family members to coronavirus, told ABC News.

Meanwhile, in the south end of the state, Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina announced Friday he had tested positive for coronavirus and was turning over management of the department to a deputy.

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“My symptoms are mild, my spirits are high and I have

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