Lee County passes resolution urging residents to stay home, avoid gatherings
By CJ HADDAD
Lee County punched up it’s stay-home recommendation Monday but stopped short of an order that would require residents to shelter in place.
The resolution, drawn up by County Attorney Richard Wm. Wesch, “is NOT a ‘shut down’ Resolution” but a document that incorporates Executive Order Number 20-83 issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis last week to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
“Social distancing; basically limiting your contact to just interacting with people who you live in the same house with, is the most effective tool any of us have to fight COVID-19,” Commission Chair Brian Hamman said. “This is a disease with no vaccine. This is a disease with no treatment. The only tool you have to fight this disease is just to not come into contact with people who have it. The most important thing we can do to keep this spread under control is to only try and interact with people we live in the same household as.”
In summation, actions proposed in the resolution include:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:
1. This Emergency Resolution adopts the Florida Surgeon General’s Public Health Advisory of March 25, 2020 in furtherance of protecting the health and safety of the vulnerable populations of Lee County, specifically that:
a. VULNERABLE POPULATIONS
1) All individuals over the age of 65 and all individuals of any age with high-risk conditions should remain in their residence and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
These measures include, but are not limited to: limiting contact with all persons outside of the home and distancing any unavoidable contact by a minimum of six feet; washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol; avoiding unnecessary touching of eyes, nose, and mouth, and washing hands prior to doing so; and cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, including entryway door handles.
2) High-risk conditions include, but are not limited to: chronic lung disease; moderate to severe asthma; serious heart conditions; immunocompromised status (as a result of cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplant, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, or prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications); cancer; severe obesity (body mass index [BMI]>40); diabetes; renal failure; and liver disease.
b. GATHERINGS OF PRIVATE CITIZENS
All individuals should cease participation in social or recreational gatherings of more than 10 people. For all gatherings of fewer than 10 people, individuals should practice social distancing by maintaining a distance of at least six feet from each other.
c. DENSITY OF THE WORKFORCE
All business owners, supervisors, managers and others in charge of conducting business in the state of Florida should allow telework of employees to the extent that can be accomplished without significantly disrupting the ability to conduct business. Employers should make every effort to reduce the onsite workforce to 50% capacity, where possible, to the extent that reduction can be accomplished without significantly disrupting the ability to conduct business.
The resolution will remain in force and effect until the county commission repeals it or until the State of Local Emergency expires.
“We’ve spent the last several weeks analyzing this situation every way we know how,” said County Manager Roger Desjarlais. “No one on our staff, (the commission), members of the community, take(s) any of this lightly. The challenge is, of course, supporting the health care system and the community to the fullest extent that we can, which includes encouraging people to behave in a way that limits the spread of the virus.
“The other large concern is preserving the economy to the extent that we can while encouraging people to reduce the spread by personal contact.”
Desjarlais said he could not recommend a stay-at-home-order to the commissioners, because “it’s so difficult to define and impossible to enforce and I don’t want to give the community a false sense of security that that is somehow going to be effective.”
Cape Coral District 4 Councilmember Jennifer Nelson was in attendance and was ultimately discouraged with the County Commission decision to not call a shelter-in-place order.
“My hope was that they would have enacted that shelter-in-place order, because that declaration, the city of Cape Coral would have fallen under,” Nelson said. “The biggest message in all of this is we have to flatten that curve. If we don’t flatten the curve now, we’re going to be dealing with this for a lot longer.”
The city has been hesitant to declare a local state of emergency due to the fact the declaration pertains to hurricane-like events, not a pandemic, and would cost the city millions each week in paying employees double time.
Nelson said FEMA would only reimburse dollars that are spent directly fighting COVID-19 and not administration dollars and positions of the like that would see an increase in pay. The city estimates it would cost them $1.5 million per week to keep the emergency in place.
Nelson said if they county had declared an emergency, those provisions would not be enacted because they are under the order of the county, not their own state of emergency.
She hopes this will be a learning opportunity for all local leaders involved if another unprecedented event should occur that impacts Southwest Florida.
“I hope we can learn from this in the future, so that if something like this happens again, we are all on the same page,” she said. “Lee County did a fantastic job messaging people over the weekend, sending the alerts out and reminding people to stay home.”
There are currently 185 positive cases in Lee County, the seventh highest in the state, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci said Lee County has seen one of the highest mortality rates in the state when it comes to COVID-19. There have been six deaths in the county with 40 current hospitalizations.
While Lee Health officials have not explicitly asked for county leaders to enforce a shelter-in-place order, they believe the highest levels of social distancing need to be implemented.
“Increased social distancing can dramatically decrease peaks in bed/ventilator demands and push the peak into the future, therefore, flattening the curve,” said Jonathon Little, spokesperson for Lee Health. “We are advocating for the highest levels of social distancing that can be achieved. We continue to have an open dialogue with federal, state and local officials, and appreciate the steps that have made so far to promote social distancing.”
Overall, FDOH reports 6,338 total cases in the state as of Tuesday at press time.
Commissioners also relayed to the public that they do not have the power to close down the airports. That is a decision made by the federal government.
Hamman did say that they are encouraging all who have plans to visit the area to not do so and stay home.
“We developed local and national marketing communication plans encouraging visitors to stay home,” said Desjarlais. “We simply don’t have the authority (to shut down the airport).”
Reports from the commissioners indicated that many of the flights coming in to Southwest Florida International Airport have been nearly empty.
An executive order issued Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis said travelers from the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area are to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering the state.
FDOH did begin “screening” passengers at RSW last Thursday flying in from the areas specifically targeted by the governor.
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