Independence Day is a busy holiday for the hospitality industry and from all appearances, COVID-19 won’t put a damper on it this year.
“Surprisingly the pandemic has not had a negative effect on the holiday weekend or summer travel in general at this point,” said Scott McQuade, president and CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We see that the leisure traveler is coming in strong numbers and making up for many of the group cancellations.”
The number of COVID-19 cases in Glynn County rose again Wednesday to 839 as of 3 p.m., an increase of 51 cases in 24 hours and 435 in the past seven days, according to the Coastal Health District. That puts Glynn among the top 15 percent of counties by total COVID-19 cases.
While the number is cumulative since the outbreak began in March, more than half of the county’s infections have been reported just in the last week, along with three of the six COVID-19 patient deaths among Glynn residents.
According to health district officials, part of the increase can be attributed to the fact that the number of people seeking testing has increased drastically. The average for the last two weeks was more than double the preceding month.
Most hotels, motels and rentals around St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea islands are sold out despite the increase in positive results, McQuade said. By all accounts, the Fourth of July is a popular holiday among day visitors. Since the pandemic started, day trips to the islands have been on the rise.
“Overall we anticipate a very busy holiday weekend and the week following the Fourth,” McQuade said.
Unlike past years, visitors don’t seem to be driven by scheduled events like fireworks as much as a simple desire to look for a change of scenery.
Of course, with more visitors comes more risk of spreading COVID-19. It’s more important than ever for not just tourists but locals to practice good hand hygiene, wear cloth face coverings and socially distance from others.
“If we fail to take precautions, we could quickly find ourselves turning back the clock to a more restrictive environment,” McQuade said. “We are seeing that occur in our neighboring states and it is essential that the visitors and residents keep safety at the front of their minds so we can keep our economy going but also keep our communities safe.”
He’s observed instances of people letting their guard down or simply deciding not to adhere to recommendations from health officials. He implores visitors and residents to avoid taking risks for the safety of all.
“As the old saying goes ‘It’s better to be safe than sorry,’ and because so much is still unknown, these are good words to live by at this time,” McQuade said.
That doesn’t rule out fun, however. It merely puts conditions on it.
One need not look further than the Pier Village on St. Simons Island for an example. As long as onlookers keep space between them, they will see a wide variety of patriotically decorated golf carts in this year’s Independence Day Golf Cart Parade, set for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Trish Wooten, owner of St. Simons Bait & Tackle and one of the event’s organizers, said she was actually surprised to get a permit for the event. She expected it to be a little more difficult.
“We just are required to social distance,” Wooten said.
Despite the rapidly rising number of cases, Wooten said she hasn’t seen a major impact on St. Simons Island.
“Down here it doesn’t seem to be affecting a whole lot. We stayed open during the whole thing and I stay clean anyway,” Wooten said. “It’s opened my eyes to how many people aren’t clean.”
Life has to go on at some point, she said, and the Fourth of July seems like a good time to enjoy at least a little normalcy.
“It’s the Fourth of July. It’s Independence Day. More so than others, this year we’re celebrating our independence,” Wooten said. “I think it’s going to be a good release for people.”