Both the city of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County have mandated wearing masks or face coverings at all indoor public spaces where social distancing is not possible (as long as you’re over the age of six).
Prior to these mask mandates, the Florida Dept. of Health and local Nassau County Emergency Management had been encouraging the use of masks in recent weeks.
City & County Mask Mandates
The local mask mandates went into effect July 2nd and 3rd and apply to the “operator, employee, customer or patron,” of a business establishment. The separate commissions of the city of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County, both voted unanimously to pass the new emergency orders. Both city and county emergency orders will expire in 30 days, unless extended.
With the Fourth of July holiday weekend here, also note that traditional fireworks displays have been canceled in downtown Fernandina and at Amelia Island’s luxury resorts at the beaches (the Ritz-Carlton and Omni). Locally and statewide, drinking at bars has been suspended, per an Executive Order by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
According to Nassau County’s Executive Order No. 16:
“A face covering includes any covering which snugly covers the nose and mouth, whether store bought or homemade, and which is secured in place. Persons who wear masks should review the CDC and Florida Department of Health guidelines regarding properly and safely applying, removing and cleaning masks.” (See full document, Nassau County Executive Order Number 16)
Mask Mandate Exceptions
There are exceptions to the mask mandates (read the full text of Fernandina’s Order below).
Fernandina Beach Emergency Order — COVID19 Mandatory Masks Resolution 2020-94
COVID-19 Cases Surge in Florida
Why the mask mandates now? With the recent upsurge of new coronavirus cases, it’s an attempt to slow down further spread. Both locally and statewide, the number of new COVID-19 cases continue to break daily records. Another one-day record was set in Florida July 2, with more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases.
Nassau County, FL COVID-19 Cases Spike
Note that during the 3-month period (March through June 18, 2020), Nassau County had recorded 93 resident cases. But during the last two-week period, Nassau’s cases have jumped from 93 to 243 resident cases. (SOURCE: Florida Dept. of Health COVID-19 Data Dashboard, data released July 3, 2020).
Several Amelia Island restaurants announced closing down during the last dozen days, for deep cleaning and testing all employees, after learning an employee had tested positive for COVID-19. To err on the side of caution, as a preemptive measure, some other local restaurants then decided to also close temporarily for deep cleaning and/or testing employees.
More Cases in Younger Cohort
With cases soaring in the Sunshine State in a younger cohort, Florida suspended drinking at bars statewide (again) beginning June 26, 2020 (see related article). During June in Florida, there were rising numbers of new COVID-19 cases in young adults, as compared to earlier months of the pandemic. The state linked this increase in younger people to the bar scene and the erosion of social distancing. (Florida bars had reopened June 5, 2020, only to be shut down just three weeks later).
Nassau County decided to prohibit professional fireworks displays just a week before the July 4th holiday weekend (see related article). This was to discourage large crowds gathering. However, Amelia Island beaches remain open this holiday weekend.
Nassau County COVID-19 Case Update
Below are comments made July 1st by Nassau’s health expert, Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, MD, Director for the Florida Department of Health Nassau County. Dr. Seidel regularly provides coronavirus updates during County meetings and answers questions.
On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, Dr. Seidel described a “significant increase” in resident cases and noted that “the demographic has been younger — in the 20s and 30s with the median age reports per day.” She gave the number of total Nassau resident cases (188), but noted that 100 of these cases were in the past two weeks. She also stated “We currently have about 98 individuals who are under isolation and many, many more under quarantine, and are still doing contact tracing.”
Rise Linked to Memorial Day Weekend
Dr. Seidel also spoke about positivity rates, saying “the percent positivity has gone up” in Nassau County. She also explained that COVID-19 cases “lag behind.” Mentioned during the meeting was that the numbers being seen now are believed to have originated from Memorial Day.
With that in mind, around the nation, the behavior of the public and crowds gathering during Fourth of July festivities, has been of concern. Whether people social distance, and/or wear masks this huge American holiday weekend, could be a bellwether of what’s to come.
Amelia Island summer beach season had kicked off Memorial Day weekend 2020 with huge crowds. The island was bustling with activity from the east coast beaches to the western riverfront in downtown Fernandina Beach. Residents and visitors alike were out and about. Local businesses welcomed the activity, after enduring disruptions and making adjustments during an awful pandemic springtime. By late May, it seemed the summer business forecast was looking sunnier than expected.
The hospitality industry in Nassau County (i.e. Amelia Island), reportedly has an economic impact of nearly $700 million annually (accounting for around 37% of Nassau County’s sales tax). This is before the pandemic emerged.
For more info, listen to Dr. Seidel’s full update at the July 1st Nassau County meeting. She also used a fishing analogy to explain COVID-19 positivity rates and the greater impact of coronovirus vs. the flu. Note that all city and county commission meetings can be viewed online.
The Florida Department of Health, COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard (as of July 3, 2020) is below. Since the July 1, 2020 Nassau County commission meeting, positive resident cases rose from 188 to 243.
UPDATE: As of July 5, 2020, the dashboard indicates positive resident COVID-19 cases in Nassau County have risen to 313. The Florida data dashboard is updated daily, browse the most current data here.
Nassau County Free COVID-19 Testing Sites
Nassau County, FL has FREE COVID-19 testing (9:30 am to 11:30 am) scheduled various days through July 28, 2020, at several locations, see list of testing sites. Or for more information on the local “Expanded Specimen Collection for COVID-19,” call 904-875-6100, or visit Nassau.FloridaHealth.gov website.
Amelia Island Tourist Council Pulls Promos (Again)
During the Fernandina Beach city commission meeting held July 2, 2020, Mayor Johnny Miller indicated he had questioned Gil Langley (head of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council), about why tourism advertising was still running. (Television ads, for example, continued to air.)
According to Mayor Miller, Langley responded that they’ve now “gone dark.” But it had been too late to pull some promotions. The Amelia Island TDC also had halted media/advertising spending in springtime. The action was necessary when the pandemic emerged and basically shut down the travel and hospitality industry.
It was about two weeks ago, on June 18, 2020, when TDC issued a press release announcing their launch of a “Moments” campaign, described as “an aggressive recovery marketing campaign.” Noting the competitive nature of Florida’s tourism marketplace, Langley indicated the need to “stay ahead in the race to attract people who have begun to travel again.”
Like bars in Florida, the tap was turned back on, only to be shut again within a few weeks.
Of course, no one in modern society has ever dealt with a worldwide pandemic. The last one gripped the globe a century ago. It’s been, and continues to be, a learning experience. It’s an extremely challenging one, to say the least (especially for healthcare professionals and scientists). And as time goes on, more things are learned and evolve.
Langley said it himself in March 2020 meeting, during a tourism/pandemic presentation — an outlook report (that is available online at the TDC website).
At this March meeting, he indicated the TDC is “making it up as we go, since there is no precedent for the current public health emergency.”