Mayor Lenny Curry says Jacksonville is cautiously moving forward to “reopen” the economy and that he will soon release details on a plan to ease the financial burden being placed on local businesses by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We've made tremendous progress in stopping the spread and flattening the curve in our community,” Curry said during a Thursday afternoon press conference. But, he added, “we’re not out of the woods yet.”
He urged residents to wear masks.
“I've been wearing a mask when I'm out grocery shopping or getting other necessities for my family and I encourage everyone to do the same,” he said.
The city and the state have begun taking initial steps to “reopen” the economy in response to decreasing positive testing rates.
Restaurants and retail stores are now able to operate at 25% indoor capacity. Curry said when paired with takeout and delivery options, that can help businesses hang on, but he recognizes it’s still a struggle as things stand.
“Councilman [Danny] Becton and I are working on relaxing elements of our local ordinance code to support economic recovery for restaurants and other establishments,” Curry said.
“In an effort to provide these businesses with additional flexibility for social distancing, early next week my administration will suspend enforcement of the zoning code related to outdoor restaurant and retail activity until the various regulations on these establishments are repealed. That will mean more outdoor space for these business establishments to serve their customers,” he went on to say.
But he reminded residents to be cautious, continue practice social distancing, and not to gather in groups of 10 or more people.
“I want to get back to normal as well. But we must move forward responsibly. That means being safe and being cautious. We can't afford to take one step forward, only to be forced to go back. We must get this right, and with your continued patience and responsible behavior in the weeks ahead, I'm confident we'll be able to move forward quickly to the next phase of reopening our city,” Curry said.
Curry said a big component of the city’s reopening strategy is to expand testing.
“The way we keep everybody in this city safe is to practice social distancing and make sure we have access to testing,” he said.
To that end, a new drive through testing site is opening on Friday at the Walmart at 12100 Lem Turner Rd. in Northwest Jacksonville. Testing at this site will be by appointment only. To schedule an appointment go to MyQuestCOVIDTest.com. Tests are available to anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 as well as first responders and healthcare providers.
The walk up testing site at Henry L. Brown Kooker Park is moving to the Legend Center and Gymnasium at 5130 Soutel Dr., making it an indoor site that will no longer be weather dependent. The site will continue to test up to 200 residents every day and it is open to everyone, free of charge.
Curry also reminded residents that the testing site at TIAA Bank Field will soon begin offering antibody tests.
“This kind of testing will give us and citizens a better idea of how widespread this virus is by telling people if they had the virus at some point,” Curry said.
These tests, which will be available in a separate lane at the site, will initially be reserved for first responders and healthcare workers.
While people who test positive for antibodies have been exposed to the coronavirus in most cases, scientists don’t yet know if that means those people are now immune to the virus, and if so, for how long.
"Whether this is the ticket for someone to go back to work [based solely on an antibody test result], my opinion on that would be no," FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a press call on Monday.
More information on the city’s testing options are at COJ.net.
Curry said Jacksonville is getting close to being able to move into phase 2 of the reopening process based on guidelines from the White House.
“As far as barbers and nail salons, we are currently under a statewide executive order, including gyms, that has those closed at this moment in time. But we are working and collaborating with the governor's office and based on their input from health professionals and industry professionals, when they move to open those we will act and move with them,” he said.
Curry said he’s willing to reevaluate the reopening process if the threat posed by coronavirus rises.
As of Thursday afternoon, Duval County had 1,083 positive COVID-19 cases and 28 related deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health.