Santa Rosa County officials on Friday closed Navarre Beach in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the county ordered all restaurants to sell food by takeout or delivery.
It was a reversal of an announcement Thursday afternoon that the beach would remain open.
County Administrator Dan Schebler said several factors prompted Friday’s decision. He said beach officials estimated Thursday there were about 4,000 people enjoying the beach, but many were in crowds of more than 10 people. Health officials said groups of no more than 10 people should congregate While he acknowledged many beachgoers were spread across the 4.5 miles of county beach, there were clusters of people.
A second concern, Schebler said, was the concern that spring breakers would leave beaches that were closed earlier this week and travel to Santa Rosa County to continue their vacation. Friday afertoon, Escambia County Commisioners voted to close public Penacola Beach and Perdido Key beaches for two weeks.
A similar concern was being aired in Escambia County as commissioners debated whether to close Pensacola Beach.
Finally, a letter from local hospital executives asking the county to close the beaches and reduce restaurant operations helped guide the decision.
“We relied on their expertise,” Schebler said. “I think that carried a lot of weight.”
Zachary Potts, front house manager at Windhjammers on the Pier at Navarre Beach, said the decision will affect nearly 50 people at that restaurant alone. Friday afternoon, several patrons were at the restaurant for one last lunch.
"Of course, once everybody found out they want to come in and get that last beer and tacos and watch the sunset go down," he said.
On the beach in front of Windjammers were several dozen beachgoers who were soaking up the sun while they could.
Michigan residents Mark and Sandy Schikorra visit Miramar Beach every year. Today, they decided to check out Navarre Beach after learning of Walton County beach closures. Even if they had known about the beach closures before arriving in town March 15, they would've made the trip to Florida.
"We will walk and bike everyday and we'll still look at the beach," said Mark. "Also, it's going to be 19 degress in Michigan tonight so..."
"We would've been quarentined at home in 40 degree weather and can't go outside, but we can still come down here and bike ride and avoid big crowds, sit on the patio, and enjoy the weather," added Sandy.
Schebler said the Sheriff’s Office will monitor the beach and use all-terrain vehicles to patrol. Also as of midnight Friday, the Navarre Beach Pier will close, however the boat ramp is open but with limited parking. The Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office will set up a checkpoint near the pier entrance (past the boat ramp entrance) to ensure access is granted only to those who:
- Are residents.
- Are current guests of a hotel.
- Are renting a condominium or home.
- Own a business or are conducting business (service and delivery persons).
- Are met at the checkpoint by a resident or a guest currently staying on the beach
Jennie McKeon contributed to this report