Public beaches reopen without major snags

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  • People were on the beach at sunrise when the city of Fernandina Beach reopened its shoreline Monday, May 4. Social distancing is required, but there are no restrictions on open hours or activities on the city’s beaches. Beachgoers were observed following the guidelines put in place to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. Nassau County’s beaches from Peters Point to Amelia Island State Park are open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily with no group sports allowed. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
    People were on the beach at sunrise when the city of Fernandina Beach reopened its shoreline Monday, May 4. Social distancing is required, but there are no restrictions on open hours or activities on the city’s beaches. Beachgoers were observed following the guidelines put in place to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. Nassau County’s beaches from Peters Point to Amelia Island State Park are open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily with no group sports allowed. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
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Most of the public beaches on Amelia Island are now open. Officials say it has gone smoothly so far. Officials in the county and the city said distancing guidelines are being followed, with some help from the county.

Beaches in the county opened Friday, while beaches within the Fernandina Beach city limits opened Monday. Amelia Island State Park on the south end of the island is open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset for “active” recreation only, such as walking, jogging, swimming, and fishing. Restrooms and trashcans are available, but all other park facilities are closed. At this time, there is no driving on the beach. Normal park fees apply.

Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park in Fernandina Beach is also open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset, the plaza is located in Old Town.

Visitors to the state parks are expected to maintain safe social distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to no more than 10 people.

Fort Clinch State Park on the north end of the island remained closed as of Tuesday.

“We gave out 200 masks on Friday, May 1, which were supplied by the county,” Nassau County Emergency Management Director Greg Foster told the News-Leader about the county beaches reopening May 1. “I walked from Peters Point to American Beach Saturday and saw groups, none over 10, who were obviously together. People are observing social distancing guidelines with no issues. I’m really proud of Nassau County residents.”

“It’s going good,” Fernandina Beach Fire Chief Ty Silcox told the News-Leader.  The FBFD provides lifeguards to both county and city beaches on Amelia Island.

“We had a good weekend; busy, but good,” Silcox said. “We had some minor medical incidents, but it went smoothly.”

He said his department made a request that local seamstresses make masks for lifeguards, which was answered. “We are following standard operating guidelines, and wearing masks when guards interacting with the public,” Silcox said. “We ask that people be receptive to those guidelines. We also encourage them to stay at an appropriate distance from others.”

Fernandina Beach Police Chief Jim Hurley said his department is enforcing social distancing, but has only given out verbal warnings as of Monday.

“We had hundreds of people out, and have had no issues yet,” Hurley said. “We are hopeful people will respect the openings, as we have more time to see the impact and make adjustments.”

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said the same.

“People have been behaving themselves,” Leeper said. “We’ve seen a few open (alcohol) containers, and people parking in No Parking zones, but no big issues have come up.”

Leeper said he has deputies who usually work as school resource officers now patrolling the beach and asking people to respect social distancing guidelines. He said having city beaches open Monday took some of the pressure off of his deputies patrolling county beaches.

The county has scheduled two “pandemic recovery fairs” this week, Foster added. The events are an opportunity for Nassau County residents to obtain information from county officials. Representatives from the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners, Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, Supervisor of Elections Office, and Property Appraiser’s Office are scheduled to be represented.

Foster said residents will be able to learn about services available to them as well as how to prepare for hurricane season. The fairs will be held 9 a.m. until noon today at the Northeast Florida Fairgrounds in Callahan and 9 a.m. until noon Friday, May 8, at Yulee Middle School.

All social distancing guidelines will be observed, Foster said.