LeeFuture wants to keep County residents informed on the County’s stance on restrictions for residents.
Originally published in the News-Press on Thursday, March 26 by Bill Smith
Lee County stops short of closing businesses to slow COVID-19 spread
Bill Smith, Fort Myers News-PressPublished 6:15 p.m. ET March 25, 2020 | Updated 6:39 a.m. ET March 26, 2020
Lee County commissioners shook a collective finger at people who refuse to comply with calls for “social distancing” to slow the spread of the coronavirus, stopping short of specific action to keep people off the streets.
But commissioners tentatively set an emergency meeting for Monday to revisit the question.
In the meantime, the suggestion that people remain inside will be made in stronger tones.
“We probably have a couple of days to do something different other than send the strongest message possible,” County Manager Roger Desjarlais said. “We’re pleading with people to stay home.”
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Desjarlais has been given emergency powers by the commission and said that the county will look to see whether stronger action is needed.
County Attorney Richard Wesch said other counties’ mandatory closing orders have 35 categories of potential exemptions, which could confound enforcement.
“There is a premise in the law that sometimes the exemptions overwhelm the rule, and this may be one of those circumstances,” Wesch said.
The commission did not vote on whether non-essential businesses should be closed as some local mayors have suggested.
Letters in support of strong measures came from Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda, Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane and Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons. Estero Mayor Bill Ribble sent a pledge of cooperation through Commissioner Raymond Sandelli.
Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello was first at the meeting to call for ordering a shutdown of all non-essential businesses.
“We must take every responsible action within our power,” Coviello said. “As community leaders we must do everything we an to safeguard the safety of the public.”
Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson also endorsed shutting non-essential businesses, but noted there are questions to be answered in implementation.
“One of the challenges I see for us today is defining non-essential and essential,” Henderson said. “If there is a road map, let’s try to find it.”
In fact, the commission gave sparse consideration to actions such as closing non-essential businesses.
Commissioners heard from medical experts who set a goal of reaching 60% compliance with social distancing practices including gathering in groups of fewer than 10 and staying 6 feet away from other people in public.
Desjarlais said the county’s marketing consultant will begin an advertising program aimed at keeping people who might come to Southwest Florida to wait until the crisis is over.
“The message is, ‘Now is not the time to come to Florida, we can’t accommodate that right now,” Desjarlais said. “When this crisis passes, we will welcome you back with open arms.”
Desjarlais said that if people don’t “stay the hell home” more drastic measures will be needed.
Commissioners listened to experts compare the availability of hospital beds forecasted under various levels of social distancing.
Lee Health President Larry Antonucci bluntly explained that the issue could come down to who gets treatment and who doesn’t in calling for action to reduce contact among people, some of whom can spread the virus even though they are not sick.
“If the number of patients exceeds our capacity, we may have to open alternate sites,” Antonucci said. “Depending on how quickly that happens it will determine whether we have to make important triage decisions on who gets care and who doesn’t.
“We don’t want to have to make those decisions,” Antonucci said.
The message from Antonucci rested on how the coronavirus has spread around the world at an ever-quickening pace. The result has been an explosion in the number of cases.
“It took 67 days to get to 100,000 (people diagnosed), 11 to get to 200,000. It took four to get to 300,000 and 2 days to get to 400,000,” Antonucci said.
Alex Daneshmand, chief quality officer at Lee Health, said that while social distancing makes a difference, its effectiveness corresponds to the number of people staying home.
“At 20%, we are not going to make a big impact on this,” Daneshmand said. “Once you start getting to around 40 to 60%, you can make a difference that means you will be able to slow down the spread that goes around in your community so you can catch up.”
Lee Health has treated 160 people with potential infections, but Antonucci was careful to note that the medical system considers a patient under investigation for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronovirus, when they have a respiratory ailment.
“Our goal was to bring this virus to an early end through social distancing and actions we and others took to support social distancing,” Desjarlais said
This is our message and we need to be stronger about it — social distancing is important,” Desjarlais said
County officials closed beaches, public counters at county business offices, libraries and other public county-run facilities.
As the coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness continued to strike people in Southwest Florida over the past several days, the prospects of communities taking their own action grew.
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In Cape Coral, the city council voted Monday to shut down city parks and playgrounds.
Most recently, on Wednesday morning, the Sanibel City Council voted to ban resort stays of less than one week, with a stated goal of reducing the number of people coming in close contact with each other in public.
In Fort Myers, Councilman Johnny Streets said he told City Manager Saeed Kazemi the city should consider enforcing a stay-at-home order.
“If you don’t have to be out, don’t be out,” Streets said.”I told him don’t wait on the governor, not to wait on the county.”
Streets said it’s better to be proactive.
“This is not some kind of a martial law, this is just being very cautious and hoping people will buy into this,” he said. “We can’t rely on the political arena to give us direction, we need to rely on medical professionals.”
Streets said people are worried about the effect on the economy, “but I think it needs to take a second seat for healthy and safety.”
“I see the lack of the urgency early on and even now we are not moving as fast as I think we should be,” Streets said.
Fort Myers Councilman Kevin Anderson said it’s important to balance the general welfare of the public with the economy “but if we are going to err let’s err on the side of caution.”