6pm, March 17, 2020. Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda spoke with “The Island Sand Paper” on Tuesday, March 17, at roughly 6 p.m. As you read her statements, be aware that since the coronavirus pandemic is a rapidly-changing scenario, some of her comments may no longer be up-to-date.
Q: What are the major changes in the past 24 hours?
Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday morning signed an Executive Order that bars and nightclubs were to close Tuesday for at least the next 30 days at 5 p.m., with the other big news the restrictions on restaurants. This of course has a big Fort Myers Beach impact.
Q: What about for restaurants, remembering that many FMB businesses are bars AND restaurants! If you are having dinner at a table and your group wants a round of drinks with your meal, can you?
Yes, you absolutely can! Restaurant alcohol access depends on the percentage sales of food versus alcohol, so if you are 51% food or greater, you meet the threshold (of a restaurant), so enjoy an ice cold beer with that delicious fish sandwich! There are restrictions, however, as restaurants can only seat up to 50 percent of their capacity, with tables at least six feet apart. Governor DeSantis is encouraging restaurants and patrons to use delivery and takeout rather than onsite options and many of our businesses are thinking outside the box for ways to make that happen. I must caution, however, that when we spoke Monday afternoon, no one discussed closing bars and nightclubs, and here we are, so doing the same to restaurants at some point certainly remains on the table.
Q: Can people still buy alcohol at stores, carryouts and liquor stores?
You sure can! This is not about halting the consumption of alcohol, but preventing the large massing of people.
Q: Do you expect all FMB bars to comply, and what are the repercussions to those who may not?
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt on Wednesday will deliver to island businesses the Governor’s Executive Order and I expect every Fort Myers Beach bar to comply. If any do not, Town Code Enforcement will cite them, we will call for Lee County Sheriffs Office assistance to close them, and we will report them to the State for noncompliance that may result in them losing their liquor license.
Q: Governor DeSantis stated that beaches can remain open but only to groups of 10 or less with appropriate spacing. How will the Town handle that?
The problem of course is enforcement. I hope each individual recognizes that these guidelines are in place for their own good, safety and well-being. We love our tourists and hope they not only return next year but are alive next year! The particular challenge is for Code Enforcement, who will separate people as best we can; will we see a couple walking hand-in-hand and separate them – No; but if we see 40 people dancing together in one group, will we stop that – Yes!
Q: In your Council statement last Friday in explaining your Shrimp Festival vote, you referenced a conversation with FMB Fire Chief Matthew Love who said, ‘sometimes you must make the decision for people to protect them!’ When I reminded you of that yesterday, you replied: “Yes! Everything is on the table to protect people, and we will do what we need to do!” Many Fort Myers Beach tourists continue to act irresponsibly. Do their actions making your decisions easier?
Our decisions have nothing to do with those actions but what we hear from the Governor’s Office, Lee County Emergency Operations Center, and Center for Disease Control. What these minority of people do, however, is selfish and shortsighted, especially to a small community like Fort Myers Beach.
Many of these are young people and when you’re young, you think you are indestructible and invincible, but stop thinking about yourself and think about your Mom or maybe your Grandmother who you are staying with for Spring Break. You may not get sick but can become a coronavirus carrier, then you go home and kiss Grandma, “Good Night!” Do you want to make her sick to the point where she could potentially die, so think seriously about that! You may party all day for Spring Break but at the end of the day, you go home to someone who is most likely very important to you, so think about them and not just your good time.
When I and other leaders make these decisions, we do not consider bad behavior but the greatest benefit to society. Enjoy that beer; lay on the beach a respectable distance from others, and do not be congregated in large groups; it is that simple and obvious!
Q: We hear of a growing feeling from year-round Lee County residents that it is time for Snowbirds and tourists to go home so we can buy groceries and necessities, along with access to our own doctors and medical facilities. Your Reaction?
I do not share that feeling; in fact, I enjoy sharing our island with others because we are blessed to live here, especially those of us who grew up here so that sort of isolationism does not appeal to me! Every morning I wake up and see that spectacular sunrise and every night I see any equally spectacular sunset, but some experience that once-in-a-lifetime here, so I understand how they feel. That produces a rebound effect, as I enjoy the friends I meet who visit every year, as often they eventually move here and become neighbors. By-and-large, Fort Myers Beach and Lee County visitors are very important to us, so I don’t feel that they should go home and leave us alone.
What it really comes down to is this – I want visitors to treat our community as great as they treat their own! When I visit Chicago, I treat Chicago just like it was my Fort Myers Beach home.
Q: is there any consideration to “Shelter In Place” restrictions?
Not in any of my conversations, but we have the ability should conditions warrant, if we feel people are at a greater risk. Several of my store employees already chose to stay home and I respect their decisions. Everything remains on the table, so it could happen.
Q: Earlier today, you described your actions to date as “Strong Yet Gentle!” What else can you say to us in our Brave New World?
God did not bless me with children but over these past few days, I thought about my parents a lot! As I grew up, they usually told me NO and I reacted under my breath with words I can’t say in a family newspaper! But when you get older and reflect, you realize they did not make those decisions to make you mad or frustrated or to irritate or punish you but to help make your life better. I love our residents and visitors like they were my own children and that is what is uppermost in my heart when I make these difficult decisions. I do not do so in a foot-loose-and-fancy-free fashion, as there is nothing else as important to me than you all right now!