Jobbie Nooner parties on despite pandemic: 'We're allowed to be out'

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Gull Island — A woman in a blue bikini stood on the back of a large boat, a beverage in her left hand, her right middle finger held high.

Celebration and defiance were on display Friday at Jobbie Nooner, typically one of the largest boat parties in the United States.

There was joy on Lake St. Clair at getting back to normalcy after months of staying at home, and disdain for anyone who would chide the celebrants for not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The people who were protesting were a lot closer together than we are, and I didn't hear anyone complaining about them," said Jennifer Emard, 43 of Chesterfield Township, referring to recent demonstrations against police brutality that were attended by thousands of people.

By early afternoon Gull Island has attracted quite a crowd of pleasure boats in the middle of Lake St. Clair for the annual Jobbie Nooner boat party despite the threat of exposure to coronavirus on Friday, June 26, 2020.

Emard's friend Lynn Brigham, 51, of New Baltimore added: "I don't care (about criticism). We're allowed to be out today."

But Friday's turnout was a bit lighter than normal, Macomb County Sheriff's Sgt. Rene Yax said, adding there were no problems at the event during the height of the afternoon. An officer at Clay Township Police, which also patrolled the Jobbie Nooner, said there were no incidents.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer loosened much of her coronavirus restrictions earlier this month but still limits outdoor gatherings to 250 people, well below what Jobbie Nooner featured Friday.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham told The Detroit News on Thursday his deputies wouldn't police social distancing violations. 

"Everyone is just out for a good time, and it’s a peaceful event," Wickersham said. 

Gene Schultz of Washington Township said Friday that it was his 25th time coming to the party. Like others at the event, he didn't wear a mask.

"I almost made a G-string made out of a mask," he said. "Seriously, I know people are saying we shouldn't be out here, but I'm staying 6 feet away from everyone. I don't see a problem.

"I've been cooped up for months. I want to enjoy all that Michigan has to offer."

Several boats at the party flew blue "Trump 2020" campaign flags, while other ornaments on display included a large inflatable rainbow beneath an American flag and a red-and-yellow U.S. Marine Corps banner.

Early arrivals to Gull Island in the middle of Lake St. Clair begin the annual Jobbie Nooner boat party despite the threat of coronavirus exposure on Friday, June 26, 2020.

Jamie Kincaid, 37, of St. Clair Shores said she has been stuck at home since Whitmer first issued a stay-at-home order March 24 in response to the viral outbreak. That edict was relaxed this month.

"This is my first time really being out among people," said the stay-at-home mother of two. "I really didn't go anywhere for those three months. I'm usually a homebody, but when you're forced to stay home, you really want to get out.

"I know there's a chance for another (coronavirus) outbreak, but I feel we're going to have to start getting back to normal at some point. We'll see what happens."

Michigan has recorded 69,329 known cases of COVID-19, including 6,634 probable cases, since the disease was first detected in Michigan in March. 

The state confirmed 389 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, which is the largest single-day case tally this month. The number of new, known infections in the state also has ticked up over the last 10 days after falling for weeks.

Cassidy Mann, 27, of Clinton Township, is convinced she and her friend Ashleigh Muir, 26, of Lansing, already contracted the virus.

"We got really sick at the end of December," Mann said as she and Muir floated on a large raft. "It was all the symptoms; I'm sure that's what it was.

"I'm not hiding in the house," Mann said. "I'm not going to be scared to live. If you want to stay inside, go ahead. But I'm having fun."

The Jobbie Nooner, held annually near the mouth of the St. Clair River at Lake St. Clair, was started in 1974 by auto workers who described themselves as “jobbies."

The event, which is held on the last Friday of June, annually draws about 10,000 boaters and more than 100,000 people. A Jobbie Nooner 2 occurs the first Saturday after Labor Day.