By John Haughey | The Center Square
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced at least 80 of Florida’s 175 state parks will reopen Monday in tandem with the first phase of his "Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step" plan.
“Recreational activity provides important physical and mental health benefits, particularly during these uncertain times,” he said. “This phase one plan will allow for the thoughtful, measured reopening of some of our state’s incredible natural resources for public recreation.”
Under a plan developed by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and in accordance with recommendations from the Re-Open Florida Task Force, access to trails and some day-use areas will be un-padlocked with visitors asked to practice social distancing protocols and limit group size to 10 or fewer.
Most parks will open from 8 a.m. to sunset. The DEP asks visitors to check www.floridastateparks.org for information on specific parks.
“Outdoor transmission is less likely than transmission in an enclosed environment,” DeSantis said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t transmit it. Obviously, if you pack in 1,000 people right next to each other, and they cough on each other, that’s going to be risky. But when you’re talking about open spaces with appropriate social distancing, that is a very low risk environment. It’s also high reward for the people of Florida.
“People can go out, they can get sunlight, they can get fresh air,” he continued. “It’s good for peace of mind.”
Reopened state park beaches will allow active recreation only, including walking, jogging, swimming and fishing. No sunbathing, chairs, canopies or coolers will be permitted on beaches.
DeSantis made the announcement at Little Talbot Island State Park in Duval County with Jacksonville Mayor Larry Curry at his side.
Curry, citing declining COVID-19 case counts and after consultations with public health officials, reopened Jacksonville beaches on April 17 with strict social distancing requirements and prohibitions against sunbathing, chairs, canopies or coolers.
Despite widespread criticism in national media, including the hashtag #floridamorons Twitter campaign, COVID-19 numbers have continued to trend downward in Jacksonville and across northeast Florida.
“There was a lot of people, not from Florida, but from between (Washington) D.C. and New York, who thought that this was like the most significant thing that has ever happened, that the sky was going to fall,” DeSantis said. “They did misleading pictures, acting like it was Lollapalooza on the beach. This is what they were focused on. People here were mocked."
Later Friday, accompanied by U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Pensacola, DeSantis visited a Florida National Guard and state Division of Emergency Management (DEM) COVID-19 drive-through testing site in Pensacola, one of 10 across the state.
The governor said the state plans to increase testing 30,000-40,000 people a day for the virus and for those who have developed antibodies for the disease.
The state has acquired a recreational vehicle outfitted as a mobile lab that will drive to where “the important points are” in combating the disease, DeSantis said.
The drive-through site, erected in the University of West Florida Softball Complex parking lot, is the first state-operated drive-through facility north of Hillsborough County.
It will start with a capacity of 400 tests per day.
Three more drive-through sites will open in Lee, Sarasota, Manatee and Miami-Dade counties next week, DeSantis said.
More than 400,000 people have received test results, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 webpage with nearly 100,000 of those were tested in drive-thru facilities.
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