Amid COVID-19, cops won’t police social distancing at Jobbie Nooner

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Amid COVID-19, cops won’t police social distancing at Jobbie Nooner

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
Published 1:26 PM EDT Jun 25, 2020

The floating party known as Jobbie Nooner will go ahead as planned Friday despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and attendees will be left to decide what precautions — if any — to take against catching or spreading the virus.

“Well, I doubt there will be much social distancing,” said Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, whose marine patrol will have several craft on site. “Everyone is just out for a good time and it’s a peaceful event. And since many of them are departing from Macomb County docks, we are out there to make sure they get to their destination safely and return from them.”

A Jobbie Nooner reveler dressed as a mermaid floats in the shallow water surrounding Gull Island.
Alex Haggart, Special to The Detroit News

The area where boaters dock, a mostly submerged Gull Island, is in St. Clair County and Sgt. Marty Stoyan of the county sheriff’s marine division said social distancing will be up to the participants. He said while Jobbie Nooner doesn’t begin until after dawn on Friday, some boaters showed up on the island Thursday.

“There is really no way we would be able to enforce something like that out on the water,” Stoyan said. “It is an unsanctioned event and we hope that people will act responsibly.”

The U.S. Coast Guard will be there again this year to offer assistance if needed but noticeably absent will be its Bristol Bay cutter, which in the past has been used as a platform for the various federal, state and county agencies involved in providing safety for the event.

“We are doing our part for social distancing (of authorities) and not providing the Coast Guard cutter this year,” said Lt. Justin Bommer of the guard’s Detroit station. “We will have manpower there in other smaller craft.

“The emphasis is on safety,” Bommer said. “We will be there to assist in medical emergencies or safety issues.”

Bommer said no new measures will be taken this year, although special attention may be given to Canadian watercraft boating into the Harsens Island area.

“The (U.S.-Canada) border continues to be closed off to all but essential travel,” Bommer said. “Jobbie Nooner doesn’t qualify as being essential. That said, Canadians should not attempt to anchor in that area.” Canadian police will also be present.

Bommer stressed the Coast Guard, along with various federal, state, county and local police and fire agencies will also be on standby and in some cases, checking watercraft for proper safety equipment, like life jackets, flotation devices, fire extinguishers and more in larger boats.

Bommer suggested boaters review required safety gear in advance of the event.

Authorities note that tying boats together and drinking can lead to problems — last year, about a dozen suffered minor injuries when tethered boats banged together during a storm — but generally, people behave themselves. Friday’s forecast, according to the National Weather Service, is for mostly sunny skies with high temperatures in the mid 80s. 

“Should we encounter anyone who is unable to safely control their boat, we will be asking that someone else take over,” Wickersham said.

The aquatic party is about 28 miles north of Detroit in the mouth of the St. Clair River at Lake St. Clair. It was started in 1974 by auto workers, who described themselves as “jobbies” deciding to meet on Lake St. Clair.

 By word of mouth and notoriety, the adult-event has featured drink, music and, at times, some party goers often wearing little more than smiles and suntan lotion. It is held the last Friday of June and annually draws about 10,000 boaters and upwards of 100,000 people for several hours of merriment in a raft-off in the shallows of the island. A Jobbie Nooner 2 occurs the first Saturday after Labor Day.

It remains to be seen how it will shape up during the COVID pandemic, especially amid reports that states where people have disregarded masks and other safety measures have seen an uptick in cases.

In Michigan, several dozen new cases were reported stemming from one East Lansing bar. Michigan has reported a total of 68,555 positive cases and 6,114 deaths as of Wednesday and officials have cautioned there is still a need to avoid large groups.

Michigan reported five coronavirus deaths and its largest single-day case tally since May, with 323 cases of COVID-19 confirmed Wednesday.

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