Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
November 18, 2020
In light of rising numbers of covid cases both locally and nationwide, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) voted 4-1 at their November 17, 202 Regular Meeting to cancel all City special events through the end of 2020, including the Christmas parade and the New Year’s Eve fireworks. At their previous meeting they had voted to cancel the Christmas Tree Lighting event.
Commissioner Chip Ross dissented, believing that sponsors of the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Run had provided sufficient safeguards to allow their event to continue. He also believed that scaling down of the traditional City New Year’s Eve celebration to the bare bones of fireworks lasting 10-20 minutes was acceptable. Other Commissioners disagreed.
After some discussion, it was decided that limiting the traditional “Dickens on Center” festival to the lighting of downtown buildings and trees with no ceremony would be allowed.
Former Mayor Sarah Pelican and former Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett addressed the FBCC on behalf of Light Up Amelia, the non-profit organization that works to raise funds for the annual New Year’s Eve and July 4 community celebrations. They explained that providing fireworks in place of the annual Shrimp Drop on New Year’s Eve would allow their organization to offer citizens an opportunity for an abbreviated celebration. Earlier covid concerns had led to the cancellation of the traditional July 4 fireworks, leaving a payment to the fireworks firm that would be forfeited if no replacement fireworks were to be scheduled by the end of the year.
Colleen Hodge, representing the Amelia Island Runners, also addressed the FBCC, asking that the organization be allowed to conduct its annual Thanksgiving Day 5K run with alterations and restrictions to minimize potential covid impacts. This event, the Amelia Island Runners Stuff the Turkey 5K Charity Race to benefit Gracie’s Soup Kitchen, had been previously approved by the City in July. Hodge explained that about 75 runners would be participating in groups of 20 or less in order to maintain distance and that there would be no social gathering before or after the race.
Commissioners discussed the problems inherent with events likely to serve as “super spreaders” in the community. Despite any suggested or imposed restrictions, commissioners feared that individuals would not uniformly adhere to them. An example offered was the conditions imposed upon youth sporting events prior to approving their resumption. The restrictions that organizers initially agreed appear to have been routinely ignored as activities resumed.
At the end of the meeting Commissioner Mike Lednovich said, “This has been a tough meeting, and none of us wanted to cancel anything. This has been a devastating time of year, My wife and I will celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas alone because of the pandemic. We have a City employee who is now battling covid, and I want to wish him well. It just magnifies how devastating this virus can be, and we all need to be on our guard. So please have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, and as Dr. Fauci says, there is light at the end of this tunnel.”