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Time Restrictions Lifted On Navarre Beach

Effective Wednesday, it’s back to normal at Navarre Beach, as long as people keep their distance from one another.

At a special meeting Tuesday morning, Santa Rosa County commissioners voted to repeal the restrictions that had been in place to combat COVID-19. The beach had been closed since March 20 in a statewide attempt to reduce the spread of the deadly coronavirus. 

On Friday, the beach reopened from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. In addition to the beach, the Navarre Fishing Pier will resume normal hours of operation. A similar decision also was made in Okaloosa County. Commissioners there agreed unanimously to reopen beaches but reminded visitors to follow social-distancing guidelines.

Santa Rosa Commissioners were influenced by a number of factors, including the comparatively low number of COVID-19 cases in the county and the behavior of beachgoers since the trial reopening on Friday. Sheriff Bob Johnson told Commissioner Lane Lynchard that those who visited the beach over the last four days were respectful of the social-distancing guidelines.

Johnson said beachgoers starting Friday were cordial and "keeping their distance for the most part.”

No arrests were made.

"I think the citizens get it; they know what's going on," the sheriff said.

Greg Luther, a new county resident, lives 17 miles from Navarre Beach and moved here to enjoy the sand and water.  He urged commissioners to lift the restrictions. No one spoke in favor of keeping the restrictions in place.

Sandy Park-O’Hara, administrator with the Florida Department of Health – Santa Rosa County, said there have been 157 cases in the county and eight deaths. She pointed out six of those deaths were inmates at the Blackwater prison in East Milton. However, she said it was promising that there were few cases in the county in the last three or four days.

"We feel that our numbers are showing improvement," she said.

She added that he department’s goal is to test 2% of the county’s population of roughly 184,000.

Brad Baker, public safety director for the county, agreed, saying Santa Rosa, Escambia and Okaloosa counties together are showing a downward trend for COVID-19 cases.

For those seeking to be tested, Baker urged county residents to drive to the University of West Florida main campus where a testing site has been operating since Friday. Prescreening is not required.

Baker also said hospitals in the county have plenty of capacity and there is a 10-day supply of personal protection equipment – PPE – for workers at long-term-care facilities as well as for first responders.

Baker told commissioners that the county’s effort to feed residents is expected to expand to five additional sites this month with the help of the Gulf Breeze-based Interfaith Disaster Resources. 

Commissioners also discussed working with local youth sports associations to balance starting their leagues against following the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control. 

Also, commissioners agreed to keep the county’s state of emergency in effect until further notice. 

Tom Ninestine is the managing editor at WUWF. He began August 1, 2019. Tom is a native of Geneva, New York, and a 1983 graduate of King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he studied journalism and political science. During a 29-year career in newspapers he worked for the Finger Lakes Times in his hometown; The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pennsylvania; and the Pensacola News Journal from 1998-2016.