Editor’s Note: The following letter was sent to the Times on Sunday. 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. If you have a letter to the editor, please send to Dadlerstein@starfl.com

Since I’m somewhat far from home in Apalachicola and may be unable to attend the meeting today in Franklin County, I’ve chosen to write a brief open letter to the county commissioners, realtors, and citizens of Franklin County regarding the irresponsible choice to keep our beaches open.

It feels impossible to ignore the changing new reality for all of us in wake of the coronavirus. Yet as entire countries throughout the world shut down to mitigate the spread, it seems that is precisely what our county commissioners are doing by putting the interests of a few St. George Island realtors over guidelines of the CDC, WHO, and governmental agencies by choosing to keep beaches open.

Make no mistake, this is about more than incompetent decisionmaking, or catering to the needs of a few elites as opposed to all of us (a seemingly regular occurrence in commission decisions). By keeping beaches open, they are actively putting Lives At Risk.

COVID-19 is a global pandemic causing entire nations to grind to a halt, and rightfully so. Infected people are able to transmit this new disease without presenting symptoms for up to 10 days. There is no vaccine, and there won’t be for at least another 12 to 18 months, maybe more. While many of us will get this disease and make a full recovery, some will not be so lucky. Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions like diabetes or heart disease are extremely susceptible to critical illness from coronavirus that can be life-threatening or fatal. There are many older residents living in our community, and some of those most at risk are the very tourists the commission and realtors so desperately want to keep bringing in.

My question to the commission is this: Is even one life being unnecessarily lost to this virus worth keeping the beaches open? If the answer is no, then why on earth did y’all make such a foolish decision? Especially considering that as this disease progresses, it’s not a matter of "If" but When a quarantine will no longer be your choice, or any of ours to make.

I pose the same question to those St. George Island realtors who selfishly put beach access over public safety during an unprecedented world crisis. Is squeezing a few more dollars out a tourist economy that already disproportionately benefits y’all worth even the possibility of this disease being transmitted under preventable circumstances? If it is, then shame on you.

There is no delaying the inevitable here. We are still Weeks out from this virus being anywhere near its peak infection rate according to most studies. Tourist season is cancelled. Normalcy is cancelled. The only way to slow the spread of this contagion is to make difficult choices that may seem extreme in the moment - but only because anything less will result in the loss of lives. That is the harsh truth of our new shared reality. But it is one we can endure together as community as we always do through hurricanes, fires, and disease alike.

We must put aside our complaints and even the more sensible concerns of what it means for our tourist season to be effectively over before it could begin. Because lives are more important. We can use this time to focus on the glaring flaws of having an entire economy dependent upon one season of high-volume tourism and visitors in general - a system that leaves a small group of wealthy property investors / business owners getting the lion’s share of profits while seasonal workers must budget every Summer to survive the Winter.

We need to hold accountable any elected official that puts the wants of a wealthy few over the needs of the majority of hardworking yet impoverished folks that are the Real lifeblood of our community. Especially during such a crucial and critical time.

Close the beaches. Encourage social distancing in all exchanges. Save lives. It’s time for tourists to go home.

Brendan Freeman