Grand Experiment

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We are nearly two months into COVID-19 related adjustments to what we would call our “old” normal lives. We’ve all heard the word ‘unprecedented’ so often we’re ready to remove it from the dictionary. But that five syllable, $5 word sums up the fact that we’ve never been in this situation before and have no playbook to consult on how to react to it.

Neither do our elected leaders. From our Town Council to the President of the United States, leaders have struggled to understand and react to the threat of a global pandemic in a way that satisfies the American thirst for unfettered freedom while keeping their constituents safe from the virus and avoiding becoming a hot spot of contagion.

Some have juggled these challenges better than others. It’s no secret that we were critical of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Lee Board of County Commissioners when they drug their feet in issuing stay at home orders in March. We supported the Fort Myers Beach Town Council when it closed the beaches and lodgings in the town. Those were difficult, but necessary decisions.

And now, it seems, it’s time to reopen. The decision to reopen seems to be based mostly on a gut feeling, “It’s time.” We wish there was more Public Health input into the decision.

The Governor’s press conference this week announcing the beginning of the end of his Safer-at-Home plan, seemed choreographed to emphasize how right he was and how wrong the media was on COVID-19. All those predictions from medical experts that Florida, filled with senior citizens, was poised to be worse than New York or Italy were wrong and he couldn’t resist taking a victory lap.

The media did not invent those experts nor the things they said, they reported them. And the Governor chose to minimize the effect millions of Floridians following social distancing guidelines for over a month may have had on the virus trajectory. The sacrifices made by Floridians should not be dismissed so easily.

No reopening plan is going to please everybody. We are pleased that the state is addressing testing, contact tracing and monitoring of available medical facilities and equipment as it moves into Phase 1 of reopening the state. The county decision, while it paid lip service to decreasing new diagnoses over the past two weeks, seemed more about the gut feeling that it’s time to reopen. They have a tendency toward self-congratulatory affirmation of past decisions. After they opened trails, they pronounced it went great. Sure hope they each take a trip to Lynn Hall Park this week to see how great their beach reopening is going.

On Monday, April 27, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted to partially open the beach for exercise for a few hours each day to residents only, though their attorney cautioned them that limiting it to just residents could be a problem legally. County commissioners knew the town’s decision before they met the next day. At that meeting the commissioners decided to open their beach parks with no limitations. Then had the audacity to say they’d reach out to Fort Myers Beach and tell them to get with the county’s plan. Anyone who wonders why there is a persistent level of distrust & tension between the town and county need look no further than this week.

Lee County could have opened their beach parks on FMB from 7-10am for exercise only through Friday, May 1, when they knew the FMB Town Council would meet, and then opened them completely on Saturday May 2. That would have prevented the ridiculous scene on our beaches this week, with sunbathers cheek to cheek on the sand right up to the edge of Crescent Beach Park, with town vehicles parked a hundred yards down the beach to dissuade anyone planning to walk further down the beach.

It’s all reminiscent of the “Who’s on First?” comedy skit by Abbott and Costello. Surely there’s a better way to handle the opening of our beaches.

Our community and our businesses deserve a coordinated plan for reopening, from state to county to town, that recognizes the importance of getting this right. People’s jobs and health depend on it.

When the FMB Town Council meets Friday, there will no doubt be changes to the Town’s Emergency Regulations. We hope that better coordination between our elected officials will lead to a reopening plan that helps our businesses get back on their feet and our Island employees get back to work safely.