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City council takes additional COVID steps

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Dec 18, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED

In light of the number of COVID-19 cases increasing both locally and nationally, the Sanibel City Council held a special meeting this week to discuss the city’s existing virus-related restrictions.

On Dec. 14, the council voted unanimously on measures involving the Sanibel Island Farmers Market, Center 4 Life, mask messaging and signage, and city staff’s reporting of COVID cases for the island.

On the subject of the market, Mayor Mick Denham explained that organizer Local Roots has put in place temporary modifications due to the pandemic, such as social distancing and mask wearing.

Vice Mayor Holly Smith added that the vendors have been spread out to allow for proper social distancing and it appears to be working, and that attendees seem to be following the new protocols.

“I think they’ve done a great job,” she said of Local Roots.

Councilmember Chauncey Goss echoed that.

“Rather than running away from this, they’ve run into it, which is great,” he said. “They’re doing what they should be (doing).”

Smith questioned though if it would be possible for the city to permit Local Roots to expand the event beyond its leased area, increasing the market’s footprint and allowing for more social distancing.

Councilmember Richard Johnson voiced support for spacing the vendors out farther.

“I think that’s one thing I saw that I would like to see more of,” he said.

Denham echoed that.

“I would agree with that,” he said.

While Councilmember Jerry Muench shared his support for spreading out the vendors more, he also felt that expanding upon the existing footprint will do little good if mask wearing is not enforced.

“At the farmers market you must wear your mask or leave the premises,” Muench said.

Island residents and Local Roots owners Jean Baer and Betsy Ventura were present for the meeting. Baer reported that they did spread out the vendors even more, plus added additional mask signage. She also floated the idea of expanding the market’s hours from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. to instead 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

“Which is adding an extra hour,” Baer said. “That may help to spread things out.”

She explained that the additional hours may help to spread attendance from say 400 visitors over five hours to over six hours. Baer suggested having the option available when season peaks, like in January.

The council voted 5-0 for staff and Local Roots to work on a possible footprint and hours expansion.

CENTER 4 LIFE

On the topic of the Center 4 Life, Denham floated the idea of extending its current closure.

“The Center 4 Life is an extremely vibrant important part of our community, and I recognize that,” he said, adding that he is concerned about people visiting it and possibly spreading the virus, however.

Denham suggested postponing the reopening a few additional months, perhaps until April.

City Manager Judie Zimomra reported for the council that the Island Seniors board of directors had recently met and — sharing similar concerns — had also recommended not opening until April.

She also noted that some center programming is being offered via The Community House.

The rest of the council voiced support for a delayed reopening.

“I think the Island Seniors Inc., their board are making very good decisions,” Johnson said.

“I support that,” Smith added. “They have made really good decisions.”

Goss noted that is the situation does not improve, he would not want to see the center open.

The council voted 5-0 to discuss the potential reopening at its May meeting.

MASK MESSAGING AND SIGNAGE

On the subject of mask messaging and the city’s signage, Denham proposed installing a second temporary sign on Causeway Boulevard — before the stop signs at Periwinkle Way — for motorists coming on to Sanibel. He suggested the spot where the city had put its illegal parking fines sign.

“The more often you say it, the better you get the message across,” Denham said.

Muench described it as a second reminder for island visitors.

“I don’t think it could hurt, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Both Smith and Johnson voiced support for the second sign, also.

“This is about marketing and we’re marketing that Sanibel and Captiva are safe,” he said.

Upon Denham’s request, Johnson agreed to work with staff on the sign’s wording.

“I’d be happy to provide input,” he said.

The council voted 5-0 to install a second temporary sign, with Johnson assisting on its language.

Also on the subject of signage, Denham explained that during a conversation with the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce the idea was raised to possibly install a sign near Blind Pass for those coming on to Sanibel from Captiva, like the electronic one now off the Causeway.

During discussion, some on the council pointed out that visitors to Captiva have to pass through Sanibel — and by the first existing sign — so they would already be aware of the city’s rule for masks. Others noted that most visitors do not see a distinction between the islands, viewing them as one.

Some felt island businesses could do a better job informing the public via their Websites.

Denham shared that he recently attended the chamber’s executive staff meeting and it has plans to strongly promote its SanCap Safe initiative again and to relaunch its related social media campaign. It also is working on rewarding businesses that comply, while addressing any businesses that do not.

“They are going to take a responsibility for doing this,” he said.

Based on the information and discussion, the council took no action on the Captiva sign.

COVID CASE REPORTING

On the topic of the city’s reporting when there is an increase in COVID cases, Smith raised concerns about staff’s hours as it waits for the state to release its daily report. She suggested a cutoff time of maybe 4 p.m. In other words, staff would report any increase the next day if it does not get it by then.

Johnson voiced his agreement on the idea.

“I definitely would support a cutoff time,” he said. “This middle of the night posting is a little excessive.”

Goss went even further, suggesting that the city provide a case update once per week. He explained that the time it takes staff to comb through the daily report, which is publicly available, is too much work.

Denham agreed, noting that Zimomra and staff are overwhelmed with the updates.

“I’m absolutely fine with it going back to once per week,” Smith said of the proposal.

Zimomra suggested adding an update on the island’s total COVID cases to the city’s Tuesday proclamation report, when its state of emergency is renewed for a week with any changes noted.

The council voted 5-0 for staff to provide a weekly update on the COVID cases on Tuesdays.