County updates coronavirus plans; schools to remain closed until April 15

Image
  • Emergency Management Director Greg Foster left, and county manager and attorney Mike Mullin attended a special meeting Monday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. Foster’s office will be coordinating information from the Department of Health, Nassau County School District, county and city governments, and all other relevant entities during the coronavirus mitigation effort.  Pamela Bushnell/News-Leader
    Emergency Management Director Greg Foster left, and county manager and attorney Mike Mullin attended a special meeting Monday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. Foster’s office will be coordinating information from the Department of Health, Nassau County School District, county and city governments, and all other relevant entities during the coronavirus mitigation effort. Pamela Bushnell/News-Leader
Body

A special meeting of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners was held late Monday afternoon to address more public and private closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic and to streamline the county’s “messaging” strategy.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Nassau County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns announced Nassau County Schools would remain closed until April 15.

The Emergency Operations Center, under Director Greg Foster, is to be the local source of “single messaging” for all inquiries about coronavirus and COVID-19 precautions going forward. Foster’s office will be coordinating information from the Department of Health, the school district, county and city governments and all other relevant entities during this health crisis.

Foster told the News-Leaderthat his office will be sending out regular updates through social media and to traditional media sources. He could not say when these updates would start or how frequently to expect them since the process was just being organized Monday.

“This is a constantly changing situation and the purpose of ‘single messaging’ is to limit the circulation of ‘bad information,’” Foster explained.

The county has determined there is no benefit in declaring a county state of emergency at this time in addition to the state and national declarations already in effect.

The county is following the federal Centers for Disease Control recommendation to limit events or gatherings to no more than 50 people, but Monday President Donald Trump also urged the public to avoid groups of more than 10 people.

“My administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel, and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and public food courts,” Trump said.

Among new county closures are the public libraries, all organized sports activities at public facilities, and scheduled events at community centers and facilities. These closures became effective at 5 p.m. Monday and will continue through April 6. Fire stations will no longer provide walk-in “wellness checks” for residents at this time.

At Monday’s meeting the BOCC approved the transfer of $50,000 from the county emergency fund to the Nassau County Council on Aging for services to the population most at risk for the virus. The funding will be used to increase home delivery meal services to seniors and to assist COA staff in providing personal shopping services for its clients. The Council on Aging closed its Life Centers in Fernandina Beach and Hilliard on Monday.

Please refer to the box accompanying this article and an article by COA President & CEO Janice Ancrum on page 4B for more details about NCCOA programs affected by the closures.

Burns was present at Monday’s meeting and advised that county schools will not be offering meals this week. The district has asked area churches to help as possible. However, beginning Monday, March 23, the school district will be setting up four sites to provide breakfasts and lunches to children who would otherwise be participating in the district’s free or reduced meal program. Logistics were still being worked out Monday but will be announced later this week.

In a message to “school district families” sent Tuesday evening, Burns said Nassau Schools will stay closed until April 15, and all Pre-K–12 grade state assessments will be canceled for the remainder of the year. Burns promised more details on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court said all grand jury proceedings, jury selection proceedings, and criminal and civil jury trials have been suspended through Friday, March 27, or as provided by subsequent order. Prospective jurors are urged to check clerk of court websites and social media sites to determine whether to report for jury services as summonses continue to be sent out.

The Florida Supreme Court’s chief justice has been given the authority to take actions necessary to respond to the public health emergency affecting the courts and court participants.

All 4-H activities have been canceled through April 30 and landscape classes and plant clinics hosted by the UF/IFAS Nassau Extension will be canceled for two to three weeks.

Nassau County Animal Services has suspended all owner surrenders and will suspend stray animal pickup once 80% capacity has been met. All adoption events are canceled. Animal Services will continue to respond to emergency calls for service as needed.

County commissioners also reviewed and revised line items on agendas for upcoming board meetings for 9 a.m., March 18, and 6 p.m., March 23, to minimize the need for public attendance, but the meetings are still scheduled. The county put out this news release:

“Routine and time sensitive items will still be heard by the Board. Public hearings will be postponed to April 27 at 6 p.m., with the exception of the following two hearings which will still be considered on March 23: 

1) A transmittal hearing for application CPA20-004, a Future Land Use Map Amendment, to change classification of 479 acres located on the north side of William Burgess Blvd., between the Robert M. Foster Justice Center and Harvester Street. This is a transmittal hearing to send the FLUM amendment request to the State for review. Following the review by the State, a public hearing will be held before the Board for comments. 

2) Finance Package 2020-11 and associated Resolutions to carry fund balance from the closeout Fiscal Year 2018-2019 and amend various receipts for the current fiscal year.”

“We realize that residents have concerns about attending gatherings but may still have an interest in items under consideration by the Board. At this time, we would like to remind everyone that Board meetings can be viewed live on our website at www.nassaucountyfl.com. Citizens with comments or concerns related to any agenda item on March 18 or March 23 may send an email to contact@nassaucountyfl.com prior to the meeting. It will be shared with the Commissioners and read into the record at the meeting.”

All meetings of the Development Review Committee, Code Enforcement Board, Conditional Use & Variance Board and the Planning & Zoning Board are canceled. All department heads and directors have been advised to cancel nonessential meetings with the public and, to the extent possible, conduct meetings via telephone or online media.

A county meeting on growth scheduled for March 23 at 4 p.m. has been canceled as well as a Joint Local Planning Agency meeting scheduled for March 25.

Anyone who believes they have been exposed to coronavirus or who believes they have symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to self-isolate at home and call their physician or the Florida Department of Health’s 24/7 toll-free hotline at (866) 782-4584 to request testing.

No drive-through coronavirus testing is planned for Nassau County at the present time. The only county in Florida to implement drive-through testing as of Tuesday is Broward County, which had 43 cases as of Tuesday morning, according to the state’s COVID-19 data and surveillance dashboard.

There was still a single reported case of travel-related COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Nassau County as of Tuesday morning. There were six cases in Duval County, one travel-related and five community-related.