Countywide emergency extended

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The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting Wednesday to extend the countywide state of emergency for the next seven days. Given the county is permitted to issue such an order only on a week-by-week basis, weekly meetings are anticipated to continue for the foreseeable future. The county’s state of emergency declaration allows the county manager and Emergency Management maximum flexibility in responding to ever-changing circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Physically present were Danny Leeper, BOCC chairman; Michael Mullin, county manager and attorney; Taco Pope, assistant county manager; Megan Diehl, Office of Management & Budget director; Sabrina Robertson, public information officer; and staff from the Clerk of Courts office to record meeting minutes. Commissioners Aaron Bell, Thomas R. Ford, Justin Taylor, and Pat Edwards were present via a telephone conference call as were Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, M.D., director of the Florida Department of Health – Nassau County, and Greg Foster, director of Emergency Management. Gil Langley, managing director of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, attended in the audience.

In addition to extending the state of emergency for another week, the board also authorized Mullin to respond to anticipated requests from the Nassau County Council on Aging and the Barnabas Center for additional funding to feed the elderly and recently unemployed residents, respectively, during the pandemic. Mullin advised that the city of Fernandina Beach is planning to provide $40,000 to the NCCOA and another $10,000 to Barnabas. The county earlier authorized $50,000 to the NCCOA.

The board took the opportunity to review and adjust board meeting agendas for the remainder of April, postponing issues likely to generate significant public interest until a later date because of social distancing guidelines.

The commission chambers have been temporarily reconfigured to accommodate no more than 35 people under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that call for individuals to maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet from each other.

At this time, meetings are still scheduled for April 13, 15, and 27 at their regular times. The public can attend those meetings in accordance with the above restrictions; however, opportunities will continue for members of the public to view the meeting online and to email or phone in during the meetings.

Ngo-Seidel said there were 10 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the county as of Wednesday morning. Her department had conducted 150 tests primarily on patients with symptoms, health care workers, and first responders. However, she did not know how many tests of county residents may have been completed to date through private laboratories. Ngo-Seidel’s department is in daily contact with Baptist Medical Center Nassau, she said.

Foster reported the Emer-gency Operations Center also has meetings biweekly with the hospital. His department is spending a lot of time dispelling rumors in the community, he said.

Mullin said staff is in touch daily with each commissioner. 

Langley is also providing daily reports to Mullin on people coming into the county from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, a “tri-state” region where cases of COVID-19 have risen dramatically. A checkpoint on Interstate 95 south at the Florida state line is specifically looking for license plates from those states in order to question travelers. Langley said he anticipates travelers from Louisiana will soon be added to the watch list. There is already a checkpoint on Interstate 10 east looking for travelers from Louisiana.

Langley is coordinating with area hotels to ensure these travelers are provided with the latest Florida guidelines regarding self-isolation when they get here. He advised the board that the latest prediction is for tourism revenues for this quarter to bring in only 5-10% of those projected before the public health emergency.

The next meeting of the BOCC is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 8.

pbushnell@fbnewsleader.com