When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the United States, the first places to close were schools, offices, gyms, restaurants, and basically anywhere where people gathered indoors in large groups.
As the number of cases and deaths has continued to rise, more closures have been put in place and social distancing regulations have become increasingly strict. For many Americans, these restrictions have feltl like they’re being stripped of their constitutional rights and freedoms, which has led entire communities to stand up in protest.
In Florida, not only were indoor spaces closed, but parks, and perhaps more importantly, beaches, have been closed for nearly a month after residents did not heed social distancing orders. All of the closures have recently sparked anti-COVID-19 demonstrations across the state by a group called “Liberate South Florida”, who are protesting the stay-at-home orders and demanding that the state be “reopened” .
While the state’s schools, businesses, and restaurants have remained closed, officials have now begun reopening some of Florida’s beaches, and as expected, people flocked to them en masse.
Cheering Crowds Return to Beaches
On Friday, April 10 at 5 pm local time, beaches in Jacksonville, Florida, were reopened. As soon as the closures were lifted, cheering crowds hurried to the waterfront to swim, bike, surf, run, and fish .
Police were present to enforce social distancing orders, and a sign flying over the beach read “Do your part. Stay 6 feet apart. Help keep beaches open.”  According to photo and video footage from Friday afternoon, however, it did not appear that many beach-goers were overly concerned with keeping their distance.
Beaches Reopened with Conditions
When Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry made the announcement that beaches and parks would be reopening, he stressed that it was under the condition that people continue to maintain social distancing orders. The guidelines only permitted “essential activities”, such as walking, biking, running, and swimming.
He warned residents that should these guidelines not be followed, and the operating hours are not respected, the parks and beaches may have to be closed again.
“We want you to be able to use the beach as an asset and enjoy yourself, but we have to maintain the safety factor.” 
Under the new guidelines, beaches will open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. each morning and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each evening. Gatherings must still be limited to less than fifty people, along with the following orders:
- City of Jacksonville golf courses will reopen during normal operating hours, but users must follow social distancing requirements
- No overnight camping at parks
- Social distancing requirements must be followed when using playgrounds
- No organized group activities, including picnics and team sports, will be permitted
- All park restroom will remain closed
- Pavilions and picnic areas will remain closed 
Not Everyone is Happy About It
While many residents are excited to be able to return to some of these spaces, there are others who are concerned that this will only make the situation in Florida worse.
“I live in Florida and I don’t want to die! Yesterday we had the highest number of new cases of COVID-19, and what does GOP Governor DeSantis do? He opens beaches!” wrote one local resident. “I just don’t want to die. I don’t want my friends or family to die!” 
The mayor, however, believes that this will help return people’s lives to a state of normalcy, and if done properly, won’t result in an increase in COVID-19 cases.
“This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life,” Mayor Lenny Curry said. “Please respect and follow these limitations. Stay within the guidelines for your safety as well as for the safety of your neighbors.” 
Florida’s Outbreak Far From Over
This announcement came on the same day that Florida experienced its largest day of new cases, with over 1400 reported on Friday. To date, Florida has had over 27 thousand cases of the virus, with over eight hundred deaths .
While some experts are saying that keeping outdoor spaces closed does more harm than good, these spaces can only remain open if citizens work with public officials and follow social distancing regulations. The sooner we can get this virus under control, the sooner we will all be able to get back to doing the activities we enjoy.
Yes, going outside and getting exercise is beneficial during times like these, but not if it is putting other lives in danger.
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