Editor’s Note: The following letter was sent Saturday to all county commissioners from a local resident. Because the county commission plans to meet today, Sunday, at 2 p.m. in emergency session, and due to the current dynamics of the county’s largely online reality, the Times is running the letter on its website ahead of the March 26 print edition.
Our county has been subjected to an onslaught of vacationers for the last two weeks, when we are all being told to stay at home and self-isolate. Despite repeated pleas on Facebook from residents asking people to not travel here during this pandemic, the onslaught is not abating.
These vacationers come from all over, including locales with a high concentration of COVID-19 cases. What we have here now is a revolving door of virus transmission; the door revolves every weekend on Saturday and Sunday turn days, when hundreds, if not thousands, of new potential virus vectors enter our county.
In addition, Spring Breakers from all over seem to be following a succession of closed beaches across the Panhandle. St. George Island is their latest. Add to that the day trippers who are swarming to the beach now that school and work are closed, and we have the perfect storm leading to disaster.
As we are all painfully aware, we have only the most meager medical resources here and in the surrounding area; certainly not enough to serve even our own population, let alone several thousand visitors. Tallahassee will be overwhelmed serving the large geographical area that is dependent on its medical facilities, so I doubt we can count on them to bail us out.
The scenario described above is creating serious danger for the residents of our entire county. In addition to the medical perils described above, we have vacationers and day trippers stripping bare the shelves in all of our grocery stores. I hope you have seen the photo that has been circulating of the meat department at Carrabelle IGA; there is no meat available, and there is no guarantee that this will be remedied anytime soon. The other grocery stores in the county are in no better shape, although for some reason St. George Island stores seem to be able to restock a little more quickly than the others. What this means for some of our most vulnerable and fragile citizens is obvious. They do not have enough food to eat because there is little food for them to buy.
There is absolutely no excuse for this horrible state of affairs.
The removal of all public parking on St. George Island has addressed only one aspect of the problem, the day trippers, and will require too many sheriff’s office resources to enforce.
In my estimation there is only one way to protect our county: we must evacuate all non-residents and close down all lodging establishments, similar to what Monroe County (Florida Keys) has done. Monroe County has set the standard for what a highly tourist-driven economic unit like ours can do. We must put the health of our citizens first. We in this county have proven that we can take care of each other, but that is becoming increasingly impossible with the situation we have now. If we allow these vacationers to continue to come here and the governor issues a lockdown order, the number of people trapped here away from home will be greater than can be sustained with the resources we have.
We appreciate our visitors, but they must not be allowed to visit now. In a perfect world, they would self-evacuate as has been suggested over and over to them. They are not willing to do this, so it is up to us to make it happen. They need to go back to their home communities where they have their own resources and won't be dependent on us.
Commissioners, I ask that you resolve to do what has been done in the Monroe County: namely to order all non-residents to evacuate, to shut down all hotels, campgrounds, and lodging establishments for a determined amount of time, and to require all lodging establishments to cease taking reservations until instructed otherwise.
Please put the health and welfare of the citizens of Franklin County first.
Mary Anne McGuire
[ ILLUSTRATION BY MARY ANN LAWRENCE | USA TODAY NETWORK]