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The Latest News & Info on COVID-19 (Corona Virus) in South Walton Florida

July 10, 2020 by SoWal Staff

We post daily information about Covid-19 news, and the number of cases on the SoWal Forum >
There you'll also find the latest information on safety, rentals, business operations and more.

Update7/23/20, by Kurt Lischka
Rentals are still red hot and the occupancy has been reported as higher than previous years. Unfortunately our COVID-19 infections are also high. See this thread on the SoWal Forum for lastest stats - Walton County COVID19 Updates.

Quite a few shops and restaurants have had to close, at least temporarily, as employees caught the virus and testing has to be done on other employees before re-opening. Most businesses are short-handed so if you are visiting please have patience and wear face coverings! The Red Bar has re-opened so that has created a lot of excitement.

Our website traffic continues to be hot also, compared to the previous period: From March 1 through July 22, website traffic to SoWal.com is up 85.4%, page views are up 108.5%, and visitors up 76.2%.

Update 6/10/20, by Kurt Lischka
From March 1 through June 9, website traffic to SoWal.com is up 71.89% over the previous period. Page views are up 108.22%, and visitors up 60.34%. We attribute these gains to our diverse coverage of news, feature stories, events (updated daily), businesses, live BeachCams, and the SoWal Forum that has extensive postings and traffic regarding rentals, jobs, news, user reports and entertainment. We also have a large and engaged social media following that trusts us to give them honest and accurate information, as well as a large and loyal newsletter audience. All of our operations work together to do a fantastic job of keeping up with happenings in our community as we have since 2003. Not to be overlooked is our broad and deep photo and video (including live streams) coverage that enhances the SoWal brand far beyond mere numbers.

A good example of photo activity is the more than 60 photo galleries recently posted of every beach, bay, and lake access in South walton. We make these galleries available to anyone, which increases brand recognition and traffic, as well as promotes good will with our partners and the community of beach lovers we serve. These photos and thousands more can be downloaded and shared from www.ShareSoWal.com by all.

According to Walton Tourist Development Council, Tourist Development Tax collection showed an 85.23% decrease in South Walton for April 2020 compared with the previous year. This decrease can be directly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor's ban on vacation rentals.
According to local vacation rental management companies and other data, bookings for June and the rest of summer are higher than the same period last year.

The Tourist Development Tax, or bed tax, is a five percent tax collected on hotels, condos and other short term rentals. It is the best way to gauge visitation and demand trends in South Walton. The revenue supports tourism marketing and beach operations including cleaning and maintaining beaches, lifeguards, destination improvements and preservation initiatives.

Update 5/19/20, by Kurt Lischka
Vacation Rentals in Walton County are now permitted, pursuant to the county’s safety plan, which includes cleaning guidelines.  Vacation Rentals are now open in South Walton and other panhandle counties.
Click here to learn more about rental rules and to book >
Vacation rentals must follow the county's guidelines and are also subject to governor's orders that visitors from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut isolate or quarantine for a period of 14 days from the time of entry into the State of Florida or the duration of the person’s presence in the State of Florida, whichever is shorter.

Update 5/18/20, by Kurt Lischka
The governor on Friday said counties can submit plans for restarting vacation rentals and Walton County did so on the same day. We are now waiting to hear back from the state as to whether our plan is approved. At this time, short term vacation rentals are still suspended, but local hotels are accepting guests now  - Hibiscus House Coffee & Guesthouse in Grayton Beach, The Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach, WaterColor Inn in WaterColor, WaterSound Inn in WaterSound Beach, and Hilton Sandestin Golf Beach Resort & Spa in Sandestin. Many restaurants and businesses are opened with guidelines for reduced capacity and social distancing - check the SoWal Forum for individual notices about who is open and when.


The newly renovated and expanded WaterColor Beach Club next to the Watercolor Inn

Update 5/15/20, by Kurt Lischka

Florida started the first steps of reopening less than two weeks ago on May 4, today the governor announced what he calls “full phase one.” The biggest change is that gyms and fitness centers, which had been closed since mid-March, can reopen.

Here’s what to expect in Florida on Monday, May 18:

  • Museums, libraries, restaurants and retail shops can operate at 50% capacity, up from the current 25%.
  • Gyms can open as long as they maintain social distancing and keep capacity at 50%.
  • Amusement parks can submit reopening plans to the state, which should include a date for when they’d like to reopen, and should include an endorsement from a local elected official.
  • Movie theaters will remain closed, although drive-in locations can operate. Bars and nightclubs also will remain closed until phase two begins.
  • No decision has been made on summer camps, but the governor hopes to know more about that soon.
  • No statewide announcement has been made on vacation rentals. The governor said counties that would like rentals to begin again should submit a plan to the The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DPBR), which is to provide guidelines for such plans. He said having vacation rentals open to only Florida residents would be preferred.

Walton County has developed a reopening plan framework and is awaiting the guidelines from the DPBR. With those guideline in hand, the county will compare them with its prepared plan to ensure that it complies with the DPBR guidelines. Walton County is working closely with its Tallahassee lobbyist and the governor’s office to facilitate this process and to move our plan through the system as rapidly as possible.

Update 5/13/20, by Kurt Lischka
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners has sent a letter to the governor imploring hin to allow the restart of vacation rentals.

Update 5/8/20, by Kurt Lischka
There are a lot of rumors going around, but there is no definite date for the restart of short term vacation rentals. Individual rental owners and management companies have different policies on bookings, with most taking future reservations and working with people to change dates as needed. Some are allowing changing dates within a year if needed. Please contact the rental companies here to contact them and get help with polices and bookings.

Seaside Commercial has announced a phased reopening to begin May 29. The week after Memorial Day Weekend.

Update 5/1/20, by Kurt Lischka
South Walton beaches open today and will be filled with locals all weekend with perfect weather. See the action on the SoWal Live BeachCams.

Vacation rentals are suspended indefinitely, but most rental companies are taking future reservations and allowing rescheduling if needed. Local hotels are accepting guests now  - Hibiscus House Coffee & Guesthouse in Grayton Beach, The Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach, WaterColor Inn in WaterColor, WaterSound Inn in WaterSound Beach. Many restaurants and businesses are opening with guidelines for reduced capacity and social distancing - check the SoWal Forum for individual notices about who is open and when.

If you are coming to visit, see which events are canceled or rescheduled on the SoWal Events Calendar.

Florida State Parks will reopen on Monday May 4th, 2020.

Update 4/29/20, by Kurt Lischka
Vacation Rentals suspension is extended for indefinite period by Florida Governor - see details from this evening's press conference >

- Restaurants can reopen with 25% capacity indoors, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and outdoor seating will be allowed, all with social distancing of at least 6 feet.
- Retail can operate at 25% of indoor capacity.
- Schools will continue to use “distance learning" from home.
- Both outpatient and inpatient elective surgeries will restart statewide.
But some things did not change:
- Visits to senior care facilities will still be banned.
- Bars will remain closed.
- Gyms and hair salons also will remain closed.

Update 4/28/20, by Kurt Lischka
On Friday, May 1, 2020, South Walton beaches will open again to the public with a few restrictions:

  • All permits for vending on the beach shall be suspended and no vending on the beach, including private beaches, shall be permitted while this Local State of Emergency remains in effect.
  • All permits for beach bonfires shall be suspended. No fire permits will be issued while this Local State of Emergency remains in effect.
  • All special events on the beach shall be suspended and no special events on the beach shall be permitted while this Local State of Emergency remains in effect.
  • Groups of more than ten (10) people are prohibited, and a minimum of six (6) foot social distancing shall apply.

In addition, all county parks will be opened on May 1.

Click here for a list and map of all beach, bay, and lake accesses in the SoWal area >

For up-to-date info on events canceled or postponed in South Walton click here >

The State's suspension of vacation rentals is set to expire on 4/30/20. Before then we will learn if it will be extended. If you are traveling here as a visitor, here are guidelines:

  • Bring supplies that may not be available due to the potential for limited supplies in Walton County, such as hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and plan to use them.
  • Bring facemasks for you and your family to use when interacting in public spaces
  • Plan to purchase supplies such as groceries, toilet paper or other essential items before arriving in the destination, as local shortages are possible.
  • Please understand that many restaurants or accommodations may not be operating and/or seating at full capacity, either due to government regulation or staffing shortages. This may mean meals must be ordered to-go, or restaurant seating is not readily available.

Most area businesses are closed, only essential activities are allowed. All Seaside businesses are closed except for a few restaurants offering takeout. In addition, the Seaside amphitheater and beaches are closed. All other SoWal beach towns are similarly shut down.

All Florida restaurants can only provide take-out or delivery (no on-site dining). This order expires 5/8/20 (unless extended).

See news & updates on South Walton restaurants that are open, closed, offering takeout & pickup, etc  >

Cafe Thirty-A in Seagrove  is selling gift cards and 100% of sales is donated to the restaurant’s employees. Get gift cards at www.cafethirtya.com.

Spell Restaurant Group (George's at Alys Beach, La Crema Tapas & Chocolate, Grits & Grind, La Cocina and Edward's Fine Food & Wine) have setup a Venmo account (@spellgroup) where donations can be made to support their staff. When donating, you can add the name of which restaurant you'd like to donate to in the comments.

Offering an addition $20 when you purchase $100 in gift cards for any of his restaurants, which include The Great Southern Cafe, The Bay, North Beach Tortilla Co., Farm & Fire Southern Pizzeria, The Meltdown on 30A and JI·SHI KI·CHN. Get gift cards at www.chefjimshirley.com.

Last Call Restaurant Group is offering an additional $25 when you purchase $100 in gift cards. Valid for Shades Bar & Grill, Pescado Seafood Grill & Rooftop Bar, Southside Slice and Shaka Sushi & Noodle Bar. Get gift cards at www.thelcrg.com.

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And finally, you can always get up-to-the-minute news, updates and insider info directly from SoWal friends and neighbors on the SoWal Community Forum >

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Offering news, features, insider tips & info, photos and video all across the South Walton area.

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