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Panama City Beach Welcomes Tourists Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Panama City Beach Government

Panama City Beach tourism officials are assuring people traveling to the area for spring break that their vacation won't necessarily increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. 


“We are encouraging them to continue their vacations because our destination has 27 miles of beautiful beach, where they can spread out and enjoy their vacation,” said Jayna Leach, the city’s vice president of marketing. 


To date, public health officials have identified two panhandle residents who’ve tested positive for the new Coronavirus. A 71-year-old man in Santa Rosa County has died from the disease, while a 61-year-old woman in Okaloosa County is still recovering. 


Gov. DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Monday to combat the virus’s spread as the number of confirmed cases within the state rose to 14. The order will ensure county health departments receive enough funding to test and monitor patients who've fallen ill. It would also allow doctors from outside the state to come in and provide care to residents who’ve contracted the disease.


In the popular spring break town, no large public gatherings or events have been cancelled. Only the city’s tourism and marketing strategy is adjusting to the outbreak. 


Local officials plan to spend the bulk of the town’s marketing dollars on advertisements in cities across the Southeast, including Atlanta, Nashville and Tallahassee. International marketing efforts have been put on hold for now. “We’re going to go after our visitors who know and love us,” Leach said. 


The city’s online marketing campaign will showcase photos of “wide-open spaces” along its public beaches to assure residents that “it is safe to travel to the area,” Leach said. 


It’s still too early to know how the Coronavirus might affect hospitality businesses as the travel season gets underway. Reservations are down a bit from this time last year, but some hotel operators haven’t seen a decline, said Dan Rowe, executive director of the Bay County Tourist Development Council. 


“Hopefully, the information that we saw last week is temporary in nature, and that the bookings are going to continue to roll in and we’re going to have a great year,” he said. 


City officials will follow any applicable guidelines from federal, state and local public health officials, he said. 


Rowe also urges all visitors to practice good hygiene, including proper hand-washing and staying away from people who are noticeably sick. 


“Those things that all of us have to face on a daily basis are the same whether you’re at home or on vacation."

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.