Amid calls from health care professionals to shut down the shorelines due to COVID-19 fears, Santa Rosa County officials announced Friday morning that all public beach areas will close at midnight.
Restaurants that have not already done so are being directed to move entirely to to-go ordering. No on-premises dining will be allowed.
The closure includes the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier and Windjammers restaurant as well as all county owned properties on the shore. The Navarre Beach Boat Ramp is set to remain open.
The announcement comes less than a day after county officials confirmed the beach would remain open as long as the public followed social distancing guidelines. But later that day, county officials in Santa Rosa County received a letter from health care officials calling for the beaches to be closed and to prohibit on-premises consumption at restaurants, converting them to take out only.
“In order to protect our residents and minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our community, we strongly urge you to take measures that will drastically limit the ability for people to congregate. The time is now for all of us to take actions that will encourage social distancing,” the letter reads.
The letter also recommends closing local libraries and canceling all public gatherings, not just those with attendance of more than 50. Local libraries are scheduled to close Saturday.
The letter is then signed by Baptist Health Care President and CEO Mark Faulkner, Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital President Dawn Rudolph and West Florida Hospital CEO Gay Nord.
The closure means sending home all employees said Windjammers manager Tamara Fountain. She said they were informed of potential closure Thursday afternoon and got the confirmation Friday morning.
Fountain said all her employees have received their paycheck early and all tips were paid out daily to ensure they have funds. She also said they plan to provide assistance information and food support for any employees that might be struggling.
She said they don’t know when they might reopen, leaving them uncertain of the potential financial impact.
“They can’t give us what they don’t know. We’re all kind of flying blind here,” Fountain said.
Also shuttered to visitors is Juana’s Pagoda’s and Sailors Grill which announced their closure due to COVID-19 concerns last week.
The beach closure will also mean impacts to the Springhill Suites on the beach as visitors will not be permitted to access the island. There will be screening at the intersection of Gulf Boulevard and the Navarre Beach Causeway according to the county.
Permitted on the island will be those who are:
• Current guests of hotels
• Renting a condominium or home
• Own a business or are conducting business (service and delivery persons)
• Individuals who are met at the check point by a resident or guest currently staying on the beach
Okaloosa and Walton counties both closed their beaches Thursday, despite concerns about economic impact to the early tourism season.