As of Saturday morning, there was still only one confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Nassau County, and city and county officials expressed their intention to keep it that way.
Crowds of students, tourists, and local citizens looking for a safe place to relax on the beach this past weekend were told in no uncertain terms to please, go home, after Fernandina Beach closed its public beaches as of 5 p.m. Saturday and Nassau County did the same beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday.
The closures came after a stressful week of continued warnings about how to limit the spread of the highly infectious and dangerous coronavirus, for which there is no cure and no vaccination. President Donald Trump urged the public not to congregate in groups of 10 or more, and public health officials asked all citizens to “social distance” – meaning you should put at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others – due to the danger of spreading the infection.
When issuing his executive orders last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis left it up to local officials to decide whether to close, and when to close, public beaches in an effort to enforce the so-far voluntary isolation guidance. As Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry closed all beaches in Duval County at 5 p.m. Friday, social media posts pointed out that the beaches were still open in Nassau County, and visitors and residents took advantage.
Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin, warning “violators will be subject to penalties under applicable local ordinances and state statutes,” also closed other city recreational facilities as of 5 p.m. Saturday: “Additionally, the outdoor recreational facilities at Central Park (tennis, pickleball, and petanque courts – as well as the waterfront petanque courts) will be closed to public use until further notice. Access to the docks at the Marina will be restricted to boat owners/occupants until further notice. The City Golf Course will be closed until further notice. City restroom facilities will be closed until further notice. ... (The) threat of Novel Coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) continues to grow, with the ultimate severity of the pandemic yet to be assessed. It is critical that personal and community precautionary measures continue to expand beyond the original scope of recommendations.
“City officials deeply contemplated this decision before recommending this course of action: it is being made in the best interest of the long-term public health of the citizens of Fernandina Beach ...
“I hope that this emergency passes soon with minimal further impact on this community: Covid-19 has greatly disrupted an exceptional quality of life that residents and visitors have long appreciated. With prevention, patience, and compassion, that quality of life will be restored. Stay healthy.”
Earlier Saturday, County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin issued Executive Order No. 1 barring vehicles from accessing the county’s beaches, but he soon thereafter issued Executive Order No. 2 banning all public activities on the beaches as of 6 a.m. Sunday, March 22. Mullin said, “The safety of Nassau County residents and their use of the beach is the primary concern. ... (The) increased pedestrian traffic, due to other beach closures, presents an enforcement issue as to gatherings and other CDC, Gubernatorial and Presidential guidelines.” The order was endorsed by Emergency Management Director Greg Foster.
A clarification issued shortly afterward said: “‘Beach’ is considered, for the purpose of this Order, to mean the sandy and wet portions of the Atlantic Ocean beach in the unincorporated areas of Nassau County.”
The executive order says the closure “bans all pedestrian traffic, vehicular traffic and horse traffic, except for law enforcement, emergency and turtle patrol personnel and vehicles, or individuals and vehicles deemed necessary by the County Manager. ... Any person on the beach after 6 a.m. on March 22, 2020 ... will be asked to leave the beach. Failure to leave the beach will be considered a trespass, pursuant to Florida Statute, and subject the violator to a second-degree misdemeanor.”
As of Tuesday morning, March 24, there was still only one confirmed case of COVID-19 recorded in Nassau County, according to the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard. That dashboard can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3aipba7.