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00000177-b32b-d5f4-a5ff-bbfb6e660000Here is the information you need to know about COVID-19 in Northwest Florida. We will keep this post updated with the latest information from local, and statewide agencies. For inforamtion from Centers for Disease Control and prevention: cdc.gov/coronavirusFor updates on Florida cases of coronavirus, visit the FDOH dashboard.The COVID-19 call center is available at 24/7 at 1-866-779-6121

COVID-19: Spring Break Without A Beach

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office will have a 24/7 checkpoint on Navarre Beach to ensure only residents and those with official business will be let on Gulf Boulevard.

If you’re thinking of heading to Navarre Beach despite its closure — don’t. 

Since Santa Rosa County Commissioners made the decision to close Navarre Beach last Friday, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office has been monitoring the area, including a checkpoint where all vehicles on Gulf Boulevard must provide a valid reason for driving through. 

“We have four deputies out there 24/7 until we’re relieved,” explained Sgt. Rich Aloy. “Our goal is to make it clear that the beaches are closed.” 

Only residents, tenants, or people working on the beach, like contractors, will be allowed through. Frequent visitors are given a permit to display on their dashboard. 

After Okaloosa and Walton counties closed their public beaches last week, there was concern that spring breakers would just head west, said Aloy, which is why the checkpoint came in place. 

And it works. 

High School senior Stevie Drew and her two friends, Patrick Boyd and Tyler Peek, drove 40 minutes from their vacation rental in Walton County to try their luck on Navarre Beach. When they saw SRSO deputies and the command bus, they turned around and went to Navarre Park. 

“We are the worst type of people — vacationing during self-quarantine,” said Boyd with a laugh.

The trio made their spring break plans before the coronavirus scare and took their chances to make the trip from Birmingham, Ala. Drew said a friend advised they could still try to get on to private beaches, but she doesn’t want to try.

Right now, the Sheriff's Office has been working on an "educational standpoint," said Aloy, and hasn't cited or fined people. But it could happen down the road. 

While Drew said she’s not afraid of getting coronavirus, she hasn’t had to make an effort at social distancing. 

“I haven’t been around people; it’s worked,” she said. 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
Spring breakers Stevie Drew, Patrick Boyd and Tyler Peek.

At Navarre Park they still got to put beach chairs in the sand. Even though they can’t see the Gulf, they have a nice view of Santa Rosa Sound. Peek said he prefers it. Spring break for Drew and her friends has been low-key. Just trips to the grocery store and drive-thrus. 

“At least it’s sunny here,” said Drew. “I’m just glad there was a park that was open.” 

Navarre Park might be the next best thing for anyone missing the beach. Wednesday afternoon a handful of people were out enjoying the sun in safe distances. 

Bob and Barbara Mueller are Missouri snowbirds getting their last bit of sun before heading  home next week. 

“We came here to get our vitamin D,” said Bob. “We’re going to make the most of it.”

“It’s not the same. The water’s not the same,” added Barbara. “But it’s wet and sandy.” 

Bob and Barbara were a bit dismayed at the Navarre Beach’s closure. Both are in their mid-70s, which makes them vulnerable to coronavirus, but they say there’s plenty of opportunities to practice social distancing at the beach. 

“Why close the beaches all the way? I don’t get it,” he said. “I don’t understand shutting the country down. The economy isn’t going to recover as quickly as the people up in Washington think.” 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
Missouri snowbirds Bob and Barbara Mueller enjoy some sun at Navarre Park.

While the Muellers made the most of Navarre Park, Bob said he did miss one thing: restrooms, which have been closed. Other local governments, like the City of Fort Walton Beach, have closed their public restrooms out of caution, and because of toilet paper theft.

“You keep hearing wash your hands, wash your hands, but restrooms are closed,” he said. “How do you wash your hands? The left foot don’t know what the right foot’s doing.”  

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.