At its Wednesday, Sept. 23, meeting, the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council’s Board of Directors heard from Nassau County Emergency Services Director Greg Foster, who urged following CDC guidelines and wearing masks to help slow the spread of coronavirus. This recommendation came directly before a meeting in which the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 to change its mind on mask wearing to “encouraging” it instead of making it mandatory. Face covering with either a mask or a cloth will still be required in the county government’s public buildings.
Foster said masks are important and wearing one does “drop your risk of being exposed to COVID-19 significantly,” but added he knows having an ordinance making it mandatory in businesses affects the tourist environment.
“I know people come here and don’t want to wear a mask because they’re on vacation or we’re concerned about people that come from different states that may have the virus because there’s (cases) in that state. In reality, we have quite a few cases in the state of Florida, so it’s not should we be concerned about people coming in from New York, from California or Texas because they may have the virus or may not have the virus. But if everybody just follows the protocols of the CDC and the Florida Department of Health, then you’re relatively safe.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in June that visitors from 45 states, including Florida, who arrive in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are required to quarantine themselves for two weeks. That order was still in place as of Sept. 22, according to Travel + Leisure magazine. There are currently no travel restrictions in place in Florida, according to the FDOH website.
A county executive order required Nassau County’s hotels and motels to report the origins of guests who checked into their rooms from March 29 until Aug. 10 to the Florida Department of Health – Nassau. The TDC provided the tools to do that to local lodging establishments and compiled it into a report.
That report for Nassau County shows thousands of nights spent on Amelia Island by visitors from March to August, the vast majority of whom were from Florida and Georgia. There were roughly 100 reports of visitors from New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, which were considered “hot spots” at the time.
TDC Managing Director Gil Langley gave the board an update on revised plans for Dickens on Centre, a Victorian-themed Christmas event traditionally held the second weekend of December in Fernandina Beach’s downtown district. Plans for the event have been revised in the interest of avoiding crowds. Instead of an event spanning an entire weekend, smaller events are planned on two weekends, with a restaurant week between them, during which the TDC is encouraging restaurants to have time-period menus and staff wearing traditional costumes. Langley said the TDC would offer funding to help support those efforts, such as hiring local entertainers.
Langley asked the TDC board to approve additional funding to expand the Christmas lighting in downtown Fernandina Beach, from $150,000 to $210,000, which the board unanimously approved.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began having a major impact on tourism and hospitality, the TDC Board has been meeting monthly, as opposed to conducting its usual quarterly meetings. Langley asked Board members if they wanted to return to the quarterly schedule. TDC Board Chairman Danny Leeper is its representative from the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners and recently lost his race for reelection to the BOCC. He asked that the board meet again next
month since it will be his last meeting as a member. The board agreed.