By Cindy Jackson
March 30, 2020
Board of County Commissioners Chair Daniel Leeper called together a virtual meeting of City and County officials on Monday, March 30, 2020, to discuss, rather informally, the state of our community in the course of the corona virus pandemic. There were approximately twelve area leaders and department heads that participated in the conference call.
Leeper was emphatic in explaining that the meeting would not result in any decisions being made today or next week but instead the intent was to bring together “a lot of great minds on this conference call.”
Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Dr. Chip Ross was the first to speak and suggested that establishing benchmarks now could help guide the re-opening of our beaches in the future. First andforemost, Ross noted that the City, County and State should be united in their efforts. Second, he is of the opinion if individuals over 65 are instructed to stay home and not go out, the beaches should not be opened until all can enjoy. Another suggestion offered by Dr. Ross was that the re-opening of the beaches should coincide with the ban being lifted on restaurants. Dr. Ross noted the numbers of those testing positive for the virus continues to go up in the State of Florida and we should stay home except for buying food and essential supplies, underscoring the fact that “decreasing density is the only way to go.”
Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, Director for the Florida Department of Health Nassau County, encouraged all to follow the national guidelines put forth and agreed that coordination and cooperation is needed at the regional level.
Sheriff Bill Leeper commented “it would be foolish to open beaches anytime soon,” warning that such premature action could well create more issues. Leeper went on to say that his deputies have had to “shoo” a few trespassers off the beaches and noted said manpower could be better used elsewhere. In particular, Leeper announced that domestic violence calls have been on the rise since the pandemic took hold.
Greg Foster, Director of Emergency Management stated that he has been in contact with other coastal counties and is in agreement that a regional plan would be most effective. He mentioned that a “phased opening” of beaches appears to be the preferred course of action when it is determined to be safe for the reopening of beaches.
Commissioner Leeper expressed his concerns about “big box”-type stores, asking if anyone had heard anything about said establishments limiting the number of individuals who can come in at any one time in an attempt to decrease potential exposure.
There is currently nothing to that effect suggested at the state level but one meeting participant did mention several smaller convenience stores around the area were starting to limit the number of customers allowed in at any one time, but those cases were isolated, not enforced and were up to the owner’s individual discretion.
The discussion lasted just 20 minutes and Leeper thanked everyone for their participation and encouraged all to “Stay Safe and Stay Healthy.”
Editor’s Note: Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, Cindy received her BA in Political Science from Dickinson College. Upon graduation, Cindy began her career on Capitol Hill working as a legislative aide and director. She later became a part of the public relations and lobbying team of the American Iron and Steel Institute and served as director of the office of state legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Cindy was involved in economic development with the state of Maryland, and served as executive director of Leadership Washington County. As a community volunteer, Cindy participates in numerous volunteer activities serving as a member of Sunrise Rotary, and as board member of Cummer Amelia Board of Directors.