Last Updated: Wednesday, 8:08 a.m.
With the governor imposing new restrictions on travel into Florida–and issuing a stay-at-home advisory to all Floridians 65 and over–Hammock Beach residents have complained in several emails to Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland that the number of guests at Hammock Beach Resort were filling its common areas without respecting social distancing recommendations, creating conditions more vulnerable to transmission of the coronavirus.
Hammock officials say they’re aware of the complaints, but that the complainers are inaccurate.
“We are at my in-laws home in Hammock Beach social distancing ourselves from society,” one person wrote the mayor Monday. “We know people who have tested positive for Corona Virus in NYC and are now staying at Hammock Beach. Sadly these are friends of ours and I couldn’t be more disappointed in their decision making. They haven’t quarantined themselves and in fact are walking around the resort, Publix, and everyday places everyone is going. Not sure how you all are going to get control of this, but it needs to be taken seriously. I watched hundreds of people at the pool today. There’s no reason this should be happening.”
Two earlier emails sent from different people to the mayor reported similar observations. Vast segments of the local tourist-dependent economy have been shut down by the coronavirus emergency, including all bars and pubs and all restaurants except for take-out service.
“[B]ar still running they just moved the furniture around,” another resident wrote the mayor last week. “Pools are full. Game room and rec center full. More than 10 people in a group on the beach.”
“We’re seeing the same things and hearing the same things and understanding that but they are not correct,” Kerry Mitruska, the resort’s director of sales and marketing, said by phone this afternoon. (Brad Hauer, the resort’s general manager, did not return a call and said by email he would refer the member of his team.) “We are not operating normally, we have taken significant measures that are compliant with local officials, requests that are being made by local governments as well as CDC guidelines,” Mitruska said, citing the restrictions on sit-down service.
“The Delfinos is the only operational restaurant right now that has food service and that is available for pick-up and take-away only,” Mitruska said, “and the rest at the bar is operating but you cannot sit at the bar and dine so that’s take-away only, just like every other restaurant outlet in the area.”
Hauer, however, informed club members on Monday that “We have recently learned that a member of Hammock Beach has tested presumptive positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus,” adding in his message: “Please be aware that certain employees, members and guests of the Club may have been exposed to COVID-19.” He said the golf courses and clubhouse would be temporarily closed.
The Hammock community residents are writing of concerns that the resort is drawing visitors from places more affected by coronavirus and potentially placing local and older residents at risk.
“There are owners and people who do live in this resort,” another wrote. “It is not ok to place those residences in the situation to be endangered by continues [sic.] incoming people, massive gatherings throughout the resort. At this very stage of circumstances, the resort should be closed off to operating as a resort to incoming guests.”
But the resort is also an important local economic engine and, at a time when one out of four Americans has been asked to shelter in place, a place to stay, at least for those who can afford it. No executive orders, local orders or recommendations place any state or local authority in the role of policing the activities of a resort’s or a hotel’s guests in common areas, though businesses that have continued to operate during the emergency have not been immune from public observations or pressure.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday issued an executive order directing all travelers to Florida from any area with “substantial community spread” to isolate for quarantine for 14 days from the time of entry into Florida. The spots include the New York Tri-State Area (Connecticut, New Jersey and New York). The order took effect today. “All persons isolating or quarantining under this Section, shall be responsible for all costs associated with that person’s isolation or quarantine, including transportation, lodging, food, medical care and any other expenses to sustain the person during the period of isolation or quarantine,” the order states.
On Tuesday, DeSantis expanded his order in a way that would almost certainly affect some guests at many local hotels. “Anybody traveling from the New York City area to the state of Florida, or has traveled in the last three weeks is going to need to self-isolate, and they’re going to need to report the contacts that they’ve had, any close contacts in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
“The residents’ concerns had more to do with so many visitors coming in that were not tested and it is apparent by Governor DeSantis’ statements that he wants to address that as well,” Holland said this afternoon. “I believe we all want to do our part to mitigate the spread of this virus within our boundaries as much as possible and communication and coordination amongst all agencies will help us do that.”
Mitruska was asked what the current capacity at the resort was, and what measures resort staff was taking when guests arrived–whether, for example, guests’ and employees’ temperature was taken, as it is at the entrance of certain government buildings even when employees are going in, or if the resort was taking other measures. “I don’t have the freedom to answer you,” he said in the phone interview in mid-afternoon, allowing only that groups and weddings were cancelling, but he said questions would be answered by email “by the end of the day.” There was no email.
But after this article initially published, the mayor receive additional emails, apparently prompted by this article, one of them from a current employee, who wrote: “I am an employee of Hammock Beach Resort while we remain open, I have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus and am currently under quarantine due to hospital recommendation. It is sad that we are the only operating facility in the are while all others are closed and taking proper precautions. I came in contact after a member tested positive but no precautions were taken except for letting the golf members know. This is a scary time for everyone and I urge you to please see the bigger picture at hand. We need to be shut down with numerous resort guests still coming in and our safety not being taken seriously or accounted for. There currently aren’t any regulations on who we come into contact with and dealing with severe lung issues myself just shows me how little Aimbridge cares about their staff and well being.” Aimbridge Hospitality is the company that has been managing the resort, taking over for Salamander.
Yet another employee wrote Holland: “Pools were at maximum occupancy with no regard for social distancing after declaring florida a state of emergency. I only care because these are the same people I have to help through out the day and was told from upper management that we are not allowed to use our PTO and I don’t want to get sick. we were first told we couldn’t wear our medical gloves, but once florida was declared in emergency we were allowed to wear gloves. The ‘sanitizer’ they put out for guests doesn’t even contain alcohol and not proven to kill covid19 (false sense of security) They did bare minimal to be able to claim they are doing things like moving the tables away from the bar in the lobby. but there is plenty of tables 6ft away where members and guests having been filling up after “takeout”. just cause there are no walls that entire carpet area full of seating by the bar is considered the lobby bar. I have personally overheard people there say they just attended a wedding with people who were diagnosed with covid19 and was told that one of our members who has been golfing there has been diagnosed. They claim to be disinfecting the property but we still have the same can of disinfectant because very few are actually doing it. please help. occupancy is down now but they are inconsiderate about the health of the employees and guests.”
The governor’s orders leave some open questions regarding the role of local departments of health in terms of observation and enforcement, Flagler Health Department Director Bob Snyder said today. But he said he could understand the worries of residents about community spread of the virus.
“I would have concerns too,” he said after reading the Hammock Beach residents’ emails. “We need to practice social distancing, try to avoid being in groups of more than 10 people or more, especially for the sake of our senior citizens who are the most vulnerable when it comes to this virus. Again, there is no vaccine, there is no medication, and our tool kit includes two things: if you have the clinical symptoms, please don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider or the health department to see if you meet testing criteria. And the second tool in the tool box is staying at home. Social distancing. Avoiding other people. Period.”
The governor’s order is clearly intended to discourage travel from hot spots, though it does not address road travel, which accounts for the larger majority of travel to the state. The Florida Department of Health is to “ensure the screening and appropriate isolation and quarantine of individuals covered by” the order, working with county and local governments and law enforcement to enforce the order. Violators would face a second-degree misdemeanor. The order is not retroactive in any way.
Holland said the city’s authority did not extend to Hammock Beach, which is not in the city. Nor does the mayor’s voluntary stay-in-place order, issued Monday morning, mean that it can be enforced in any way regarding resorts or even large gatherings.
Flagler Beach and Flagler County have closed the county’s 18 miles of beach. The county’s emergency authority extends to beaches upward of the mean high water line, which means private businesses and associations, including the Hammock, may not use the beach in front of their property. “Such owners, however, are still subject to the emergency power of the government during times of declared emergency, just as with the public that desires to exercise their customary use rights to the beach,” County Attorney Al Hadeed said Tuesday evening. (An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the stretch of beach in front of the Hammock resort as a “private beach.”) The county’s emergency order closing the beach “draws no distinction between publicly or privately owned dunes or beaches,” Hadeed said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order shutting down restaurants and bars last week did not extend to resorts or hotels functioning as such, but did assert the 10-person limit on gatherings. It ordered “all vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises to suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink or in sealed containers for consumption on the premises,” with an allowance for consumption off the premises. The order applies the same wording to any “specially licensed food service establishment”–that is, to restaurants.
The order was unclear regarding facilities within resorts (the order doesn’t refer to resorts at all), where the facility and the resort are under the same umbrella.
“We are supportive of the governor’s executive order because this will help to dampen the transmission of the virus, because New York and New Jersey and Connecticut are hard-hit states,” Snyder said.
Holland said residents were also calling the city’s call center to report concerns about the resort, but since it wasn’t in the city’s jurisdiction, the issue was passed along to the county to address, and the county informed her the resort was complying with rules and recommendations.
The resort has reduced its cancellation policy to 48 hours’ notice for arrivals through April 11, but it is continuing to welcome guests. A brief Covid-19 notice appears on its website, just below the fold, noting that the resort is taking precautions and monitoring the “Covid-19 situation closely.” It states that “Hand sanitizing stations have been installed in high-traffic public areas around the Resort as an additional precautionary measure to keep hands clean and we are enhancing cleaning of guest high touch point areas with the use of approved anti-bacterial cleaning products,”: that it it would “implement additional measures as provided by trusted sources” such as the CDC and the World Health Organization.