By Tiffini Theisen | The Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — As the divide deepened between Americans who want to reopen the country and those who urge continuing social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus, one microcosm of the debate centered Saturday on some newly reopened Florida beaches.

The #FloridaMorons hashtag started trending on Twitter as social media users shared images of crowded shorelines in the Jacksonville area.

Some Twitter users called Florida the laughingstock of the nation, declared Saturday to be “Darwin Day,” and warned that the action would extend quarantine durations. They posted memes criticizing the government officials who made the decision as well as the residents and visitors who went to the beach.

See Bits and Pieces’s other Tweets

Others spoke out in support of the beach reopenings, some of them saying Floridians need fresh air and exercise, and others stating that grocery store shoppers are closer to each other than the beachgoers have been so far.

And Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry countered early Saturday by retweeing images showing people standing and walking farther apart from each other on the beach. In one retweet, he tagged a local news station.

Curry announced Friday that Duval County beaches would be open again as of 5 p.m. that day, but only for exercise and recreational activities including walking, fishing, swimming and surfing.

People are not allowed to sunbathe or sit down or lie down on the beach. Chairs, towels, blankets, coolers and grills are prohibited during this time.

“This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life,” Curry said in a statement. “Please respect and follow these limitations. Stay within the guidelines for your safety as well as for the safety of your neighbors.”

Beaches are open only from 6 to 11 a.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m., the city of Jacksonville says on its website.

To the south, St. Johns County quickly followed suit, also announcing the partial reopening of beaches, and also for exercise only. The beach hours in St. Johns are 6 a.m. to noon daily.

Duval County had 824 coronavirus cases and 15 deaths, and St. Johns County had 188 cases and four deaths as of Saturday morning, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Because social media is a digital mirror to people’s most visceral feelings, images of packed beaches are particularly potent fodder for viral outrage in a way that, say, a well-trod hiking trail in a state park probably wouldn’t be.

Not only is the beach the classic symbol of the collective dream of Florida, both in and out of the state, but images of spring breakers partying just before the state’s stay-home order — which gained international attention — remain fresh in people’s minds.

While #FloridaMorons gained traction Friday and Saturday partly because of the beach reopenings, the hashtag is not new.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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