NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – The Nassau County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday evening to reopen its beaches on Friday.
County beaches will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day for most normal activities, such as swimming, sitting, fishing, surfing and laying out. Beachgoers will be required to practice social distancing and to limit groups to no more than 10 people. County attorney Mike Mullin told News4Jax that deputies with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office probably won’t issue citations unless people are adamant and refusing.
For now, beachgoers will not be allowed to camp, ride horses, drive or park on the beach, but commissioners said they will regroup in a week to discuss reopening beaches to commercial activities.
Commissioners said they hope the reopening of county beaches on Friday will help ease the rush when the city of Fernandina Beach reopens its beaches on Monday.
Fernandina Beach announced Wednesday afternoon that the restriction on city beach access and parking, with the exception of Seaside Park on-beach parking, will be lifted, effective Monday at 6 a.m.
According to the city, the beaches will be fully accessible for all activities, with no time restrictions. The only requirement is for beachgoers to comply with appropriate social distancing measures.
“I think it’s going to be slammed,” said Sandra Smith and Jen Richart, who work at Tortuga Jacks in Fernandina Beach.
For the time being, other recreational facilities -- Atlantic Recreation Center, Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, Peck Center, the skatepark and pickleball, tennis and basketball courts -- will remain closed to the public.
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The county attorney also told News4Jax that lifeguards will be out and available on Monday, May 4. Fernandina Beach Fire Chief Ty Silcox said the training will be completed and the towers will be manned effective next week.
“We are like football players sitting on the bench, waiting for coach to say, ‘Get in the game,’” he said.
Silcox added recruitment has been slow since local schools and colleges are closed, and that’s where they do most of their recruiting. Silcox said they have enough guards for now, but will but continue to hire.
Nearby Duval and St. Johns counties reopened their beaches April 17 and 18, respectively, on a limited basis. On Wednesday morning, Flagler County lifted limitations at beaches and allowed activities that include sitting down, but social distancing guidelines remained in effect.
The decision to reopen Nassau County beaches comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced at 5 p.m. Wednesday that restaurants and retail stores in Florida -- except Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, the area of the state hardest hit by the coronavirus -- will be allowed to reopen Monday at 25% capacity if the local government allows it. DeSantis said he will not allow the reopening of gyms and barbershops in the first phase, and he’s not setting a date for the second phase yet.
Tortuga Jacks has been doing some remodeling and touch-ups, getting ready to open back its indoor dining. Now that restaurants are allowed to reopen Monday, News4Jax asked Smith and Richart how soon they’ll be up and running.
“Probably within just a few days afterward. We are ready any time,” they said.
Businesses on Amelia Island have also been preparing to reopen.
“We have actually been researching what Georgia has been doing to kind of get ahead of those guidelines, hoping that they will be similar,” Megan Georgero, general manager of the Amelia Tavern, said, referring to 39 requirements issued by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp that restaurants must follow if they reopen, which they were allowed to do beginning Monday, April 27.
Georgero said her team has been recertified with food handling safety and made sanitation sheets. When the Amelia Tavern is able to reopen the dining room, Georgero said, it will only seat at half-capacity to maintain social distancing.
“We have absolutely taken a hardhead. We are trying to survive right now, and I will say, the community out here on Amelia Island has been the most supportive community I’ve ever been a part of,” Georgero said.
While The Amelia Tavern has been closed for dine-in service since mid-March, it has kept its entire staff on board and says it is looking foward to reopening.
“We are absolutely prepared to reopen with the guidelines that have been give to us,” Georgero said.
The Emergency Operations Center said a schedule is expected to be released Friday or next Wednesday in regards to reopening Nassau County.