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Council updated on COVID-19 by Lee Health

By Staff | Apr 8, 2020

The Cape Coral City Council — most of its members wearing protective masks and some taking part remotely — received a coronavirus status update Monday.

Dr. Larry Antonucci, president of Lee Health, told the elected board that while Lee County is still far from out of the woods, physical distancing has mitigated the rapid spread of COVID-19 and that growth has been “linear, not exponential,” a good sign.

Antonucci said he expects cases to peak around April 21. From now until then, the greatest challenge could be the number of ventilators — though it isn’t currently an urgent need — and personal protection equipment, or PPEs, which seemingly every hospital can’t get enough of.

Lee Health has begun in-house testing, which can provide results in an hour, instead of days. Lee Health also has added 216 more beds two months earlier than expected at Gulf Coast Hospital, of which 72 are open.

In other business:

n Council passed a consent item allowing for display of two A-frame style signs instead of one for all businesses affected by a state Executive Order prohibiting on-site food consumption as part of an effort to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. Permit and permit fee requirements for most banners (excluding feather banners) would be waived. Affected businesses are allowed to stay open for carry-out, curbside service and delivery. The order is intended to prevent the gatherings of individuals, in this case diners.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden questioned how the resolution would be delivered to businesses. Mayor Joe Coviello said the Chamber of Commerce and the CCCIA have helped spread news. Vince Cautero, community development director, placed notices on the city website and got economic development involved.

n Council decided to hold off on deciding how to spend the city’s gas tax revenues from the county until they know the severity of the virus and the impact it will have on how much money the city will so receive.

The city expected $850,000 from the gas tax revenues, which was to be spent on sidewalks (primarily) and streetlights. Much of the money in the first year would allocated to equipment and materials, as well as the hiring a third crew.

Due to the state’s the stay-at-home mandates, people have stopped driving and therefore haven’t had to buy gas.

Councilmember John Gunter said it would be prudent to wait until the council comes back from hiatus to decide.

n Council split on a resolution to give the CRA the ability to decide on artwork that would appear on roundabouts and on utility boxes downtown.

Coviello was concerned that a sculpture planned for the roundabout at Vincennes Boulevard and Southeast 47th Terrace would potentially create vision or distraction problems, while Gunter wanted guidelines as to what could be painted on the utility boxes so the art does not potentially offend someone.

Both voted against the proposal, which passed 5-2.

n A memorandum of understanding between the city and the fire bargaining unit regarding sick time and compensation for overtime during the course of the virus was discussed at the request of Gunter, who had concerns.

Essential employees, such as firefighters and police, are typically paid double-time during a local state of emergency.

City Manager John Szerlag said the state of local emergency was meant for hurricanes and not a pandemic that could cost an extra $1.5 million per week and last indefinitely. The city is not under a local state of emergency, while the state and county have declared one.

The unions agreed that local states of emergency were not intended to include pandemics and so the double time provision was not applicable although additional sick time, if necessary, was, as per a federal mandate related to COVID-19.

The MOU would also apply for police, as well as the professional and non-bargaining units.

The fire department bargaining unit wanted to tie its MOU to the ability to re- join the city’s health care system, which it left in 2010 for its own health trust fund.

The city put the cost of rejoining, to come out of the city’s General Fund, at $1.7 million initially and then $800,000 annually with both costs and savings to the city’s new Employee Health Center resulting in an estimated net savings there of $190,000.

Gunter said it seemed as though the fire union was looking to renegotiate its contract, which runs until September 2021.

“Our fire department does a great job. They recognized the problem and wanted to do what was right. But the timing and the way this is being done isn’t right,” Gunter said. “I support the other MOUs, not this one.”

Gunter was the lone dissenting vote as the fire MOU passed 6-1. The others passed unanimously.

n The city has agreed to avoid the most controversial topics until the virus threat subsides.

Due to the virus, those giving public input in person gave it at the entrance of council chambers as the city tried to keep the attendance under 10. The city also is accepting meeting comment via email.

Two issues, though, drew some comment from among the board.

Councilmember Rick Williams said he would like to get a controversy regarding Tropicana Park out of the way. The controversy surrounds a proposal to include a water sports component, including club leases, within the park’s development plans.

Some residents are opposed.

“The Northwest Neighborhood Asso-ciation has waged a war and it doesn’t represent the Northwest Cape. It represents its members,” Williams said. “It’s frustrating to have a group led by four people holding the city hostage. They’re stopping everything they can.”

Gunter touched upon a couple of hot topics as well — the city’s noise ordinance and its municipal charter school system. Gunter agreed that these issues need to be addressed, just not right this minute.

“We’re in the middle of a crisis. Let’s put this on hold for 30 to 45 days and bring it back. We need to make a decision and be done with it,” Gunter said. “We need to talk to council and the public and decide.”

n Council, which fell behind after its March 16 meeting was cancelled, will attempt to make up for lost time.

Councilmember Lois Welsh made a motion to add a regular meeting on Monday, April 27, in lieu of a workshop meeting. The decision to approve was unanimous.

City Council was facing the possibility of having 21 hearings and ordinances come before council at its April 20 meeting.

The April 27 meeting will allow the council to split up the titles.

Council also decided to cancel many of its scheduled meetings this month. The Youth Council meeting on April 10, the Budget Review meeting on April 13, the Transportation meeting on April 15 and the code enforcement hearings on April 23 and May 21 were also scrubbed, along with the Cape Coral Charter School meetings on April 14 and 16.

Only Tuesday’s hearing examiner meeting and the one on April 21 will stay on the schedule, and both will use appropriate social distancing procedures.