‘Go Home’ and ‘Stay Home’

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These are the messages being sent to visitors and residents of Fort Myers Beach this week. Over the past week, Florida, Lee County and Town of Fort Myers Beach have enacted increasingly more stringent policies and restrictions for the state, county and town.

The bottom line in all the messages boils down to, “Go home” if you are a visitor and “Stay home” if a resident. It’s a total reversal of the area’s usual warm welcome to any and all visitors and it’s all a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, spring breakers would not leave the beach and gathered in big crowds despite restrictions put in place by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Then the sandy beach was closed. Now the push is for snowbirds and vacationers to leave the island to avoid overtaxing the critical but limited resources that full time residents need.

As a new week dawns on Fort Myers Beach, the sandy beach is closed everywhere in Southwest Florida. Bars and restaurants are closed or contemplating closing. Public services are scaled back as offices close. Grocery stores have empty shelves, hospitals and the medical system are strained. Airlines, hotels and rental agencies have relaxed cancelation, refund and early departure policies. Fort Myers Beach right now is not the paradise it usually is for March and April visitors.

On Sunday, March 22, 2020, Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda was contacting short term rental agents and hoteliers to urge them to send visitors home. Some, she said, have been very cooperative, noting that Silver Sands and Distinctive Beach Rentals have spread the word to those in their properties. “We’re getting a lot of cooperation from some folks,” said Cereceda.

Sanibel hoteliers have been removing their pool deck furniture. Their beach is also closed, as is Fort Myers Beach’s sandy shores. “They’re also getting a lot of pressure from Sanibel residents to have visitors leave,” Cereceda added.

“I know we have no authority to order visitors to leave or rentals to empty their properties, but we are trying to spread the word, ‘If you don’t live on Fort Myers Beach, you should go to where you do live, now,’“ Cereceda said.

“I know it’s cold and dreary in a lot of places up north, but visitors should not be here right now. We have one grocery store, one pharmacy and one road. Under normal circumstances, we are happy to share our resources with all of our visitors. But right now, we can’t. Not only are the extra people here now taxing our resources, they are putting themselves in harm’s way and we don’t want that.”

Residents Stay Home

Fire Chief Matt Love of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department published an online video early last week, urging residents to follow public health advice regarding large groups and social distancing. You can see it at FMBFire.org

Love explained that the Fire Department was implementing new policies to “maintain the health and safety of our emergency responders” so that they could continue to serve the community. Among those policies was a request for people to not go to fire stations. “Use 9-1-1 for emergencies, injuries and illnesses rather than visiting fire stations.” The Fire Department has also postponed all Fire Board meetings in March and April, as well as all public education offerings and non-emergency gatherings. Annual fire inspections will be rescheduled, while permit inspections will continue. Anyone with questions can call the Fire Department at 239-590-4200.

The FMB Fire Department provides emergency medical service as well as fire service in the district.

“A healthy and ready response force is what our community needs,” Love states in the video. “The women and men of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department stand ready to provide excellence in service. This is a time for collaboration and calm, rather than chaos. We will get through this event as we have others – as a community, not as individuals.”

Beach firefighters sent their community a clear message last week, when they shared a photo of firefighters holding signs that read, “We are here for you, please stay home for us!”

Government epidemiologists and medical experts say that the best way to “flatten the curve” of projected health care needs that exceed the beds, supplies and medical personnel our community has, is to avoid interacting with others and potentially sharing COVID-19. The virus has a 2-14 day incubation period, so it’s possible to not know you’ve been infected and spread it to others before you feel any symptoms.

For more information on COVID-19, visit floridahealthcovid19.gov