ST. GEORGE ISLAND, Fla. (WTXL) — Despite the pandemic, tourists are vacationing in Florida. People from across the country are flocking to St. George Island this weekend to kick off their Spring Break.
Jermel Ollie and his friends made it to St. George Island this weekend.
"We had to drive 16 hours from Chicago," Ollie said.
Ollie said the looser coronavirus precautions in Florida, compared to stricter guidelines in Illinois, also helped with their decision to spend Spring Break in Florida.
"We want a normal lifestyle — vacation," Ollie said. "Just enjoy myself."
Places like Blue Parrot are welcoming the tourists, breaking records with more than 1,200 guests Saturday alone. The restaurant still requires employees to mask up and says the COVID restrictions other places have them reaping the benefits.
"With COVID, I think we've just had more people coming and staying inside the United States," said Blue Parrot Co-Owner George Joanos. "I would go to talk to guests and say, 'What's the deal, where are y'all from?' Well, they're from Nashville. 'Why are you here?' 'Well, we were supposed to be in Italy. We couldn't do that so we came to the island.' Which is kind of cool for us."
Businesses like the Jet Ski Hut said for them, it means more rentals, too.
"Houses are starting to rent out up here, so it's picking up," said Waverunner employee Cory Lee. "It's a nice first day for me. Winds not blowing that hard, and it's packed out here. I love it."
The Gunhus family traveled all the way from St. Augustine to meet with family from Minnesota. Ryan Gunhus said he believes the pandemic is calming down and getting vaccinated is helping ease concerns they had when the virus started spreading.
"We had family members come last year right at the beginning of COVID. We weren't able to join them because of the COVID. This year, everybody felt safer," Ryan Gunhus said. "The adults that were worried about it all have their shots now, so they feel comfortable. It's just great to be with family and friends."
"Everybody's been following the COVID rules and still out, and we figured if there's anywhere to be that you can definitely be apart from people, it's the beach. St. George is one of those more private beaches," Amber Gunhus said.
Florida Department of Health reports a total of 1,285 COVID cases in Franklin County. Those numbers could be low because the majority of the island is filled with rentals. Some fear tourists could bring more positive cases to the area.
This article was written by Chantelle Navarro for WTXL.