Amid the pandemic, Glynn County is making ready for celebration weekend in Georgia and Florida

Despite frantic Covid rates in Glynn County, the “Frat Beach” party will continue on the beaches of St. Simons Island, but there will be some limits, including a ban on alcohol and less portable toilets.

The soccer rivalry between the University of Georgia and the University of Florida takes place every fall in Jacksonville. But for decades, thousands of college students and young people from across the state have made the Golden Isles Ground Zero for the accompanying two-day party, which takes place October 29-30 this year.

The unofficial gathering is moving forward as Glynn County has one of the highest Covid / Delta transmission rates per capita in the country. In addition to the complications, there is the high-profile trial against Ahmaud Arbery, which is to take place in the district town of Braunschweig during the same period and attracts numerous media and international viewers. It is expected that addressing this effort will further expand local resources.

Commission is working to discourage crowds

In several sessions earlier that month, the Glynn County Commission voted to curb some practices, ban alcohol and end food trucks on the beach in order to contain a “super spreader” event. And to avoid lingering in the crowds, the district has also reduced the number of Porta potties from 100 to just 25.

The final vote on Thursday’s alcohol ban was 6: 1, with only new Commissioner Sammy Tostensen voting against the measure. Commissioner Walter Rafolski questioned whether they were legally entitled to do so, and Totensen expressed concern about the overwhelming power of the government and violating the protection of the constitution from searches and seizures. District Attorney Aaron Mumford assured them that the ban was legal and had been carried out in the past.

Commissioner Cap Fendig

Commissioner Cap Fendig said the out-of-control behavior of party guests forced him to shut down his trolley service over the weekend. He made a statement directly to the visitors who greeted everyone including the students, but the addition of “lewd behavior and excessive drunkenness” was unacceptable.

Even in Covid-free years, local residents and leaders have long been concerned about the effects of dozens of drunk people saturating the beaches with crushed beer cans and broken liquor bottles. And in times of Covid, party crowds represent a whole new level of danger in a county that became known on national news as one of the most dangerous Covid hotspots in America. So far, the district has recorded 256 deaths from the corona virus.

Covid case rates in the district remain high

At the district commission meeting on September 2, Michael Scherneck, President and CEO of the Southeast Georgia Health System (SGHS) said only eight Covid patients were hospitalized in July, but that number quickly rose to 152 patients, of whom were up September 58 were in the intensive care unit. He also reported that the 14-day transmission index was 3,080 cases per 100,000,000 (the rate is considered “high” if it exceeds 100 per 100,000). Although interest rates are now falling, albeit very slowly, they remain at extreme levels, said Scherneck.

Coastal Health District, Georgia Department of Public Health, starting Sept. 17

As of September 17, there were 14,621 cumulative cases in Glynn, a county with a population of about 85,000, which is about one in six of the population.

Neither the commissioners nor health experts can predict what the rates will be by the end of October. Dr. Lawton Davis, director of health for the Coastal Health District, said that if the delta variant follows the epidemic curve it followed in India, where it was first identified, it followed a 4-1 / 2 month cycle from the first Rise in cases could take to peak and then to fall. That would bring Glynn County’s stabilization to late November or early December.

The change in the Covid landscape challenges the Commission

In preparing for the Georgia-Florida party crowds, the commission is grappling with the changing dynamics.

Commissioner Bill Brunson

“The only certainty is uncertainty,” said Commissioner Bill Brunson. “It’s a moving target.” He told The Current, alluding, among other things, to the rising Covid cases, which were not a factor in the past. Although last year’s event also took place during the pandemic, the case numbers were much lower and people were still more likely to be in lockdown mode.

“Last year, seats at the Jacksonville stadium were extremely limited due to the first Covid outbreak,” said Brunson, who chaired the commission last year. “This year it’s wide open and it’s going to be full.”

Brunson is also particularly concerned about finding enough medical and law enforcement personnel. “We don’t have the resources we had in the past,” he said.

The concurrent Arbery trial will drag out law enforcement, already weakened by Covid diseases and exposures down the ranks.

The hospital has suspended all elective operations and 21 National Guardsmen have been sent to Braunschweig by Governor Brian Kemp to help with Covid tests. There is now a special tent outside the main building for this purpose.

For the past few years, the hospital has set up a medical tent on the beach on weekends to deal with emergencies, including those who are drowsy and need hydration. This year the tent will be there for another reason, said Jenni Morris, coordinator for relations with the hospital communities. After much deliberation, the hospital plans to occupy a tent to treat sick or injured partygoers to keep them away from the already clogged emergency room at Brunswick Hospital, Morris told The Current.

Weekend means business to many

While many retailers and hoteliers see the event as their “Black Friday” for sales in a depressed, Covid-affected retail environment, some see it as a potential disadvantage for family vacationers who tend to stay longer and spend more.

“Young people who pass out in the sand with their hotel room numbers tattooed on their foreheads are not what we want to be known for,” Brunson told The Current.

The commissioners had no intention of closing the beaches, which were kept open by order of Governor Kemp last year.

At the committee meeting on September 2, Chairman Wayne Neal emphasized the mystery. “Even if we close the beaches and barricade everything and people come here to party, they will crowd into bars and other establishments and that will put everyone in a confined space.”

Commissioner Allen Booker

Despite the many concerns, Commissioner Allen Booker said there was little the county could do other than minimize the disruption. “That will happen. Now it’s about how we deal with it, ”he said.

Booker told The Current. he saw other ways to approach young people who will come, no matter what the limits.

“I think we should continue to work with the colleges and the community to encourage positive activities, including a vaccination campaign,” said Booker. Other ideas he mentioned included the potential of a big screen TV to watch the game at Mary Ross Park in Brunswick, which he said could potentially serve to dilute the crowded crowds on Frat Beach. He also suggested providing a vaccination station for students.

Crowds are a greater danger to important workers

Many of the hotel and restaurant employees on the islands come from the Booker’s District on mainland Braunschweig, one of the poorest communities in the state.

“The people who come from my district and work on the island (in tourism) are already at high risk, and even more so during this time,” he said. “They should be treated as first responders and paid extra as doing so puts them at even greater risk.”

Others also see the risk. In a letter to the Brunswick News, Glynn County resident Dick Wiederhorn suggested a tougher move: “This Friday, anyone wishing to step on the Coast Guard Beach or Massengale Park must provide proof of age 21 and up a Proof of the Covid vaccination card. ”

However, vaccine validation was not mentioned or considered by the Commission at any of its recent meetings.

Few real options left

Peter Murphy, a former Commissioner, believes that the provisions put in place by the current Commission are all that can be done. He told The Current that similar measures were taken over the past year due to Covid, and when he went to the beach it was only about 150 children versus thousands in previous years.

East Beach resident Susan Hunter agreed.

“Last year there was almost nothing like it hadn’t happened.” She said. According to Hunter, it was the influence of Covid, not the lack of game tickets, that kept the kids away for the past year. “Most of the children I see don’t go to play. You can hear them screaming and cheering when you see it on TV in their rental apartments across the neighborhood. “

In addition to the alcohol and food truck bans, the commission promised to crack down on underage drinking and public drunkenness.

“When you look at the arrest files in Braunschweig, we normally don’t tolerate these things, so why are we doing this for that?” Murphy said.

Commissioner Brunson also proposed a ban on gallon milk jugs loading some party guests with alcohol and Gatorade or other mixers. “If you could confiscate these things, that would be 90% of the problem,” he said. But the proposal gained little traction as Tostenson re-voiced concern over government search and seizure violations in the form of police.

According to various commissioners, the biggest supporters of the weekend are the short-term tenants, who usually charge a substantial surcharge for the rental for the game weekend. But some part-time residents like Susan Hunter make a point of not only denying Georgia / Florida rentals, but also making sure they are at home to protect their homes.

Business attitudes for the rivalry weekend remain mixed. Some restaurateurs and retailers greet the crowds, while others are dismayed by the drunken behavior in their establishments. Nobody seems to be fully aware of the full economic implications for the community. Scott McQuade, President / CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau, did not return a request for comment.

Two more regular meetings are planned on October 7th and 21st before the event. The Commissioners say they will keep the flexibility. “Everything can change and we have to change with it,” said Brunson.