Nights of Lights brings Christmas Eve crowds despite omicron threat

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The Night of Lights event is known to bring thousands of people to downtown St. Augustine, and on Christmas Eve, the crowds were large.

Right before sunset, we met Hayfra Rukab and her family, who were waiting in a long line to get into church.

“Usually, it’s like this every year,” she recalled.

Dave Apperton was also waiting in a long line that extended down the block to get into Harry’s Seafood, Bar & Grille -- a popular downtown restaurant.

“We been in line almost an hour. Maybe 45 minutes,” he told us.

“I’m vaccinated. I trust everybody does the right thing, so I’m really not concerned,” Apperton added.

On Friday, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention added 31,758 infections to its caseload. It broke a record for the most cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

RELATED: Florida breaks record with 31,758 new COVID-19 cases reported by CDC

“We’re vaccinated. We recently got boosted and we’re outside trying to practice social distancing, so, I feel safe,” Daira Hall said.

“Take the precautions and protect yourself and the people around you,” Gina Armenteros told us.

The FDOH reported 111,990 first doses of vaccine were administered last week. That’s the highest number reported by the health department since mid-September. A total of 8,710,670 people have been fully vaccinated in Florida.

“If this was something you were worried about then maybe stay inside. Stay home. For me, this is the right place to be,” Cheltie Smith said.

Most of the people we spoke with Friday night said it’s important for them to get out with their families and enjoy the holiday.

“It’s just amazing to be out in public and see this many people,” Kate Vivenzio said.

“I don’t want to sit inside and let these memories go to waste. So here I am. We’re enjoying this,” Gabbie Armenteros said.

Cherie and Edward Fletcher are from Atlanta, Georgia, and they came to St. Augustine to celebrate their 27th anniversary. The couple is fully vaccinated against COVID and this was their first time in St. Augustine for Nights of Lights. Both brought their masks.

“It’s safe to keep the mask on. Even though you got the shot, you should still use the mask,” Edward Fletcher said.

“I don’t want to take any chances at all. I  want to enjoy and not be shut up in the house, but I’m taking precautions,” Cherie Fletcher told us.

Then we met Janice Smith who is visiting from Indianapolis. She’s a fully vaccinated grandmother who got tired of staying at home and missing out on spending time with relatives here in Florida.

“I did that for a year and, so, no,” Janice Smith said. “I will take my chance because I miss my grandbabies and everybody.”

Then we met Theresa O’Kelly, Patty and Patrick Mulcare. They’re all visiting from Alaska.  And they’re paying close attention to reports about the omicron variant.

“The biggest thing is to be smart about it and we have been,” Patrick Mulcare said. “Outside, I think we are okay.”

The omicron variant is said to be more contagious than the delta variant, but early data suggests it’s less severe and more people are staying out of the hospital.

The Duval County Health Department put out four recommendations for residents, especially as people gather for the holidays:

  • Vaccinate: Get vaccinated before gathering, attending events or traveling. Get a booster when eligible. Layer protection with a flu shot.
  • Test: Get a COVID-19 test before joining gatherings with others who are not in your household and before and after traveling, regardless of your vaccine status.
  • Mask: Wear a mask indoors in public, even if you are vaccinated.
  • Prevent: Continue rigorous hand washing and consider avoiding large crowds.

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