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Lee County urges residents to stay home

By Staff | Mar 26, 2020

A 90-minute emergency meeting of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday drove home a two-word message most local and state governments have been stressing for weeks regarding the coronavirus:


The commission stopped short of declaring a shelter-in-place order, deciding to keep county parks open for the time being. They did set up another meeting for Monday at 9:30 a.m. at the Old Courthouse to see how busy the parks are to help maintain social distancing.

But the main message was to encourage residents to stay home, which will be emphasized not only to Lee countians, but to people who want to come to Florida to visit, through a marketing campaign that will encourage potential visitors to stay away for now.

Social distancing has become an important part of keeping the new coronavirus in check and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Lee Health representatives were present, hammering home that fact with a model of what would happen if no social distancing was in place.

Lawrence Antonucci, president and CEO of Lee Health, said with no social distancing, local hospitals would be overrun within two to three weeks.

But if the goal of 60 percent could be reached, the hospitals could keep from being overfilled for up to five months, thus “flattening the curve” and spreading COVID-19 for a longer period without burning through hospital resources, like ventilators and personal protection equipment.

Currently, the social distancing percentage is estimated at about 35 percent. Even at 40 percent, there would be a decrease in admissions of about 57 percent, said Lisa Sgarlata, Lee Health’s chief nursing officer.

The commission also heard for Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello, who urged the board to take immediate action.

“I support the BOCC to close all non-essential businesses in Lee County to stop the spread of COVID-19. I encourage members of our community to stay home and follow guidelines for social distancing as this is a critical prevention measure,” Coviello said.

BOCC chairman Brian Hamman drove home that main point.

“You need to stay home. Let’s stop calling it social distancing and start calling it staying home,” Hamman said. “Think about your life in wants vs. needs. Ask yourself if you need to leave the house or wants to. If it’s a want, stay home.”

Commissioner Frank Mann cautioned that there are some that, if you cast that “stay at home” net, there will be many low-income people who won’t have the money to make it through, stimulus or not.

“What we have here is the potential of an overkill. I don’t know how we can define those measures needed,” Mann said. “Those who are vulnerable need to go to the grocery store. How do we balance this?”

County Manager Roger Desjarlais said their marketing contractor, MMGY, has crafted a message to the world that they need to stay away from Florida for the time being. It will be used on social media, print and TV, targeting the New York Metro area, previous visitors, and those who may have reservations here.

“The message says now is not the time to come. Sorry, we can’t host you now. Once this passes, we’ll welcome you with open arms,” Desjarlais said.

Hamman said he was hesitant to close the parks, but wondered if that’s a step they can take to avoid birthday parties and other larger gatherings.

The county has already had workers work remotely, closed lobbies and face-to-face counters, and closed community centers, libraries and playgrounds, among other things.

Even though Lakes Park was reported to be very busy last weekend, it was decided to hold a meeting Monday to see how busy the parks are before they pull the trigger on that.