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Lee Health readies

By Staff | Apr 2, 2020

Lee County can expect to see a drastic rise in COVID-19 patients over the next two to three weeks, Lee Heath officials warned Thursday.

Meanwhile, mobile collection sites at Page Field and Cape Coral Sports Complex saw their highest collection numbers to date Wednesday (233 specimens), with that trend expected to continue.

“It is in that vein that I want the Southwest Florida community to be aware that if we follow the current trends, we are going to see an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases over the next 2-3 weeks,” said President and CEO of Lee Health Dr. Larry Antonucci on a Thursday afternoon media call. “Ten days ago we had 34 cases in Lee County, and 119 cases five days ago. As of this morning we have 245 cases in the county. If this trajectory continues we could hit 500 as soon as next week. As a community we need to be prepared for what is coming and take every precaution.”

By the Numbers

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, there were 9,008 cases of the new coronavirus confirmed in Florida, with 27 additional deaths reported among Broward, Clay, Dade, Duval, Flagler, Hillsborough, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties as of 11 a.m. and another 16 reported at 6 p.m. among Collier, Dade, Duval, Osceola, Palm Beach, Sarasota, St. Lucie and Sumpter counties.

In Lee County, 267 individuals had tested positive as of 6 p.m. Thursday – 114 in Fort Myers, 58 in Cape Coral, 35 in Lehigh Acres, 31 in Bonita Springs, 11 in Estero, nine in North Fort Myers, three in Sanibel, two on Fort Myers Beach and one on Captiva. Two positives were not classified by community.

Lee Health, as of Thursday afternoon, had 45 COVID-19 patients isolated in their hospitals. Seventeen patients who had tested positive were discharged.

Lee Health had 184 employees quarantined at home and eight employees have tested positive for COVID-19 after being exposed at work.

Lee TeleHealth had 154 virtual visits Thursday.

Lee Health has submitted a total of 3,337 specimens for testing, yielding a total of 169 presumptive positives since March 6.

“Recently we have seen about a 48- 72-hour turnaround time on new tests as the commercial labs have worked through their backlogs,” Antonucci said. “We expect to begin in-house testing of specimens next week, and the reduced turnaround time will paint a clearer picture of what we are dealing with, and what steps need to be taken to help keep our community safe. These sites continue to operate 7 days a week, requiring a physician’s order and an appointment before we can collect the specimen.”

Lee Health, as of Thursday afternoon, had 249 patients “under investigation,” a term used for those awaiting test results.

A total of 80,385 individuals have been tested throughout the state: 71,348 have tested negative, 29 tests were inconclusive and 1,389 tests are pending results. Of those testing positive, 1,058 have been hospitalized and there have been 128 deaths.

Florida’s testing has increased over the past two weeks with the percentage of positives ranging from 7-13 percent. The percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19 overall is 11 percent. Of the 9,198 tests performed on April 1, the most recent date, there were 1,199 positive results, or 13 percent.

More from Lee Health

The 216-bed expansion at Gulf Coast Medical Center opened Thursday, two months ahead of schedule.

“Throughout the day we will be moving patients to the COVID-19 cohort unit and begin to care for those patients there,” Antonucci said. “I again want to thank everyone who worked so hard to get these beds up and running two months early to help support our community during this time.

Antonucci also addressed the reportedly high mortality rate among Lee County residents.

“At first look, it may appear that way, but the truth is our numbers are too small at this point to come to statistically significant conclusions,” he said. “Right now, the number of patients who are positive for COVID-19 is relatively low, so one death shifts the percentage and mortality rate significantly. To ensure we have the clearest picture of COVID-19 cases and the mortality rate of the coronavirus in our community, we need people to get tested. We need to rule out those who are negative and quarantine those who are positive and, if necessary, hospitalize those who need a higher level of care.”

County, Sheriff’s Office, gear up for statewide ‘limited movement’ order

Lee County officials gathered Thursday afternoon to discuss the “limited movement” order Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Wednesday.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno addressed how his office will deal with enforcing the order which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. this morning.

His office, the county and their respective legal staffs are working through the entirety of the document, he added.

“Rest assured our patrol deputies, aviation and marine units will be out in full force, ensuring that the orders and the ordinance are being obeyed,” Marceno said. “Because voluntary compliance has been so successful, our deputies will continue to use the education and awareness as their primary tools when encountering non-compliance.

“However, for those that refuse to comply, we will issue a ‘notice to appear’ and if necessary, make a physical arrest.”

County Commission Chair Brian Hamman opened by asking Lee County residents a question.

“How are you doing Lee County?” Hamman asked. “I can feel it. You’re stressed out, you’re anxious, you’re nervous, you’re mad; you really don’t know what the future holds right now.”

His message?

“Tomorrow starts the next phase in our fight against COVID-19. Tomorrow is a new beginning,” he said.

Hamman said every resident in the county has a role to play when it comes to combatting the virus.

He asked those who are 65 or older to protect themselves and to stay at home. He asked those with lung disease or underlying illnesses to do the same.

And for everyone else, he wants the division to stop.

“We are all on the same team, every one of us,” Hamman said. “We need to come together as one. We need to support each other. Most importantly, we need to give each other some grace and some patience that I have not been seeing people give each other.”

He asked those who are feeling anxious about the situation to “take a breath.”

“That doesn’t mean don’t take it serious, but to start to take care of your mental health,” Hamman said.

For those who aren’t taking it seriously, Hamman had a message for them as well.

“It’s time to get serious. Your role right now, starting tomorrow, with the new phase of our fight of COVID-19, is to get with the program,” he said. “We need you to stop trying to find loopholes to continue the party. Half of the questions I got today are people looking for loopholes to continue to do things that could cause you to catch the virus. We’re doing this to protect you. We need your help.”

Other actions taken by the county Thursday include:

* The county’s website www.leegov.com/covid-19 has been updated with information to reflect the governor’s order, including an at-a-glance list of essential businesses. This is designed to help citizens navigate the lengthy list that was included in the order. A link to that detailed list is also available.

* Parks: All Lee County parks and Conservation 20/20 preserves closed Thursday night until further notice with the exception of boat ramps. County-owned boat ramps will remain open for regular hours at this time.

* LeeTran: Lee County Transit has adjusted fixed-route schedules beginning Thursday, to operate a modified Sunday service schedule. LeeTran will operate the modified sLeeTran: Lee County Transit (LeeTran) will adjust fixed-route schedules beginning Friday, April 3, to operate a modified Sunday service schedule. LeeTran will operate the modified schedule seven days a week as the county responds to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safer-at-home order for non-essential services. LeeTran’s Passport service is not impacted by this operational change.

Until further notice, all routes that run on a typical Sunday except the previously suspended Gold Line and beach trams and trolleys will remain in operation. In addition, LeeTran will add the following routes to the modified Sunday schedule: 5, 10, 30, 40, 60, 80, 160 and 515.

Riders can access schedules for each route at www.leegov.com/leetran/how-to-ride/maps-schedules

To follow service related updates or learn more about LeeTran, please visit the agency’s website at www.RideLeeTran.com.

Riders are asked to observe recommendations from the Centers For Disease Control for social distancing.

Information: All of Lee County’s previously announced closings, operational changes, links to Constitutional Offices, county news conferences and news releases are available at www.leegov.com/covid-19.

Cape boat ramps remain open

According to Cape Coral officials on Thursday, the Chiquita Boat Lock and the city’s five public boat ramps remain open.

The Chiquita Lock will continue normal operations from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Boats are required to be spaced at least 50-feet apart with no more than 10 persons allowed on each vessel.

There have been requests to keep the Lock open at all times, but, according to city officials that, cannot be done “due to strong currents and other safety factors.”

Lee County opens ‘Business Assistance Resource Call Center’

Representatives are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to answer questions on loan programs and assist businesses in connecting to the right resources.

The center provides information on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which allocated $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed during the pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has activated the Emergency Bridge Program for small businesses and the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Florida small businesses suffering substantial economic loss as a result of COVID-19.

They are also offering information on SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

Contact information for the Lee County Economic Development:

Call Center: 239-533-2273

Email bizrelief@leegov.com or visit www.leegov.com/covid-19/business.