The close-knit community of Fernandina Beach might feel a little less personal this spring, with the city’s signature event, the May 1-3 Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, being canceled, and the tourism hits keep on coming. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Tuesday that closes all bars in the state for the next 30 days and reduces the customers allowed in restaurants.
“(The order) will reduce density and crowds in restaurants, bars, nightclubs and beaches to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19),” according to a news release. “Under the direction of Governor DeSantis, all bars and nightclubs throughout Florida will close for the next 30 days. Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) will be enforcing and providing further guidance.
“The governor is directing parties accessing public beaches in the state of Florida to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance by limiting their gatherings to no more than 10 persons.
“Restaurants across the state of Florida will now be required to limit customer entry to 50 percent of capacity. Seating must be staggered and limited to ensure seated parties are separated by a distance of at least six feet, in accordance with CDC guidelines. Restaurants are encouraged to remain open and expand take-out and delivery services. Additional information will be provided by DBPR,” the release concludes.
All city government meetings have been canceled until further notice due to federal, state and local warnings to avoid public gatherings due to the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.
On a generous note, the city is temporarily suspending water service disconnections for non-payment, but parks and recreation services have been curtailed, and the city’s police department has closed its lobby. “People coming to the station can still reach us by phone at the front door,” Police Chief James Hurley wrote in an email Tuesday. “Seniors vs. Crime has been suspended until further notice, also fingerprint services. We are handling more calls by phone and handling many requests by email.”
While City Hall remains open with all departments functioning as of Tuesday, City Manager Dale Martin said some activities in utility billing and the Parks & Recreation Department have been canceled, such as Fernandina Beach Parks & Recreation-sponsored childcare services, after-school care, sports leagues for youth and adults, and water aerobics.
“In-person payments for utilities have been suspended,” Martin told the News-Leader. “Late fees and utility disconnections related to late fees and delinquent accounts have also been suspended through the end of the month, at which time the waivers will be re-evaluated. Please note that due to the city’s billing system and process, shut-off notices will be distributed, but the shut-offs will not occur.”
The agenda for the City Commission meeting scheduled for March 17, which was canceled along with all city meetings until at least the end of the month, included one item, an application for a grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District that is due by March 27. Martin said Monday he plans to submit the application to FIND with a notification that a resolution of support from the City Commission would be provided as soon as possible.
The other business on the meeting’s canceled agenda will be conducted as soon as possible.
The Fernandina Beach Police Department will continue to respond to calls, but officers will be given discretion in handling incidents such as fraud, theft, and lost property, as well as “other minor incidents,” by telephone instead of in person. Some documents or statements may be requested by email.
Those who need to request a copy of a report, pay a parking citation or have other requests of the FBPD records department can call (904) 277-7342 and use option 2.
A post on the Police Department’s Facebook page says: “When on a call for service, to limit exposure to airborne microbes, our officers may ask you to speak with them outside and they may try to keep a six foot distance. Out of caution, they may also decline to shake hands, but please understand this is for the pursuit of good health.”
Martin said information related to the city will be provided on its website at fbfl.us and the city’s Facebook page.
The News-Leader reached out to Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller and the other members of the Fernandina Beach City Commission to get comments about the coronavirus prevention measures being taken by the city. The only response came from Vice Mayor Len Kreger, who echoed the information Martin gave.
One case of travel-related COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has been reported in Nassau County as of Tuesday morning. There were six cases in Duval County, one travel-related and five community-related.