Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 25, 2020
The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) met in special session at 10:30 a.m. on March 25, 2020 for less than a half hour to address matters related to the Coronavirus. Chair Danny Leeper was the only commissioner present in the meeting chamber, while other commissioners participated via telephone on speaker. Leeper, County Manager Mike Mullin and Assistant Manager Taco Pope sat at the bench, practicing safe distancing from each other.
Mullin advised the public on ways they could comment or participate in the meeting by phone or email.
The commissioners voted to extend the motion declaring a State of Emergency for the County.
Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, Director of the County Health Department, reported telephonically that there remains only one case of Coronavirus in the County, but that statistics on testing are “fluid.” She explained that some of the testing has been outsourced to private labs, but within the County’s Health Department 29 tests have been administered with 26 negative results, one positive and 2 pending. If outside test providers identify positive test results, they are supposed to report such to the County Health Department. She added that there is a lag in reporting, and one testing facility has taken up to a week to report results. Her message: You cannot rely on a test to drive your behavior. Take the precautions outlined in the CDC guidance.
County Emergency Management Director Greg Foster, also included telephonically, reported that the County continues to relay information electronically while developing a strategy to reach county residents who are not tech savvy. He said that Nassau County continues to compete with other counties in the state for needed resources.
Mullin addressed the Governor’s Executive Order concerning people arriving in Florida via scheduled air flights. Dr. Seidel explained the procedure that has been implemented at airports, while noting that the local health departments are not being provided with passenger lists. The success of the effort will depend on individuals’ adhering to self-quarantining rules. Mullin explained other efforts being taken to notify hotels and resorts of the requirement.
The County is stressing “Buy Local” for its own purchasing at this time. He also explained how public service is being maintained despite via shifts and limited public contact.
Mullin addressed the complaints and concerns that have been raised with respect to the closing of Amelia Island beaches. In order to address these concerns Mullin called for the creation of an informal group to consist of himself, BOCC Chair Leeper, Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin and a designated City Commissioner, Sheriff Bill Leeper, Emergency Management Director Greg Foster and Dr. Seydel. This group will address the beach issues, “not necessarily for today, but for the future and what restrictions may be necessary as we continue in this emergency.”
Leeper said that while he appreciated the County’s efforts to deal with concerns about beach closings, he did not want to see a “knee jerk reaction” that could jeopardize public health. He said that his personal goal is to reopen the beaches “sooner rather than later,” but by taking a responsible approach that would not increase risks to individuals’ health.
Leeper also addressed concerns being voiced to Commissioners about large gatherings that continue to take place, where CDC guidelines are being ignored. He said that concerns are “running rampant on social media.” He said that the County is working through these concerns the best they can. Leeper encouraged residents to stop the “panic buying” and adhere to CDC guidelines. “Stay home if you are an at-risk individual,” he said.
Commissioner Justin Taylor asked Mullin to address the situation with the gaming parlors, which had requested a temporary injunction to stay the business closing order. Mullin reported that the judge denied that request. As a result, the establishments that are covered under the County’s Nuisance Order/Gambling Establishments will be required to close at one minute past midnight Friday. Failure to do so will result in the issuance of citations, and fines will accrue immediately thereafter. All such establishments have been notified by letter. Cited businesses may contest citations before the Code Enforcement Board.
Chair Leeper thanked Mullin for the County’s effort to support local businesses. He also asked citizens to utilize local restaurants and businesses as much as possible to help them and their employees during the emergency.
Commissioners joined Chair Leeper and County Manager Mullin in thanking all the public employees for their hard work under difficult circumstances and asked the community for their patience as the emergency continues.