On the Edge

376

Our community is standing on the edge of a critical decision. Do we relax the COVID-19 closures and regulations or do we wait?

The beaches were closed on March 19. Restaurant dining rooms were closed March 20. Vacation rentals shut down March 30. The Florida “Safer at Home” order was issued April 1.

People have been isolating in their homes for weeks now and are anxious to get out again – walk the beach, go out to dinner or head to one of the now-shuttered retail stores. The longing for “normal” is palpable and entirely understandable.

We are social creatures. Even the most hermit-like among us have found that we miss the casual social interactions of a normal life.

All levels of government – state, county and town, are considering how to undo this complicated lockdown we’re in.

Much is being made of official re-opening guidelines offered at the federal level, though it seems many have not actually read them. Before any reopening is begun the guidelines call for a downward trajectory of influenza-like and COVID-19-like illnesses in a 14 day period AND a 14-day downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests AND a robust testing program for health care workers, including an antibody test. It also calls for “safe and efficient screening and testing sites for symptomatic individuals” plus contact tracing. Read the whole document at whitehouse.gov

That sounds like our state and our county needs a whole lot more testing and contact tracing before easing any restrictions.

Maybe instead of focusing on how mad some people, (voters) are about not being able to go to the beach or to work, or get a haircut, we should ask our state government to focus on meeting those guidelines and sharing where they are in meeting them.

Florida

Governor DeSantis has formed several committees to advise him on the best way to reopen the state and filled them with dozens of the heavy hitters of the Florida business and political world and given them five days to do so. Elected officials are included, but, in a petty political move, he did not include Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat holding an elected statewide office.

Tell us again how this is a non-political process that will take in the concerns of all Floridians? It is beyond sad and pathetic that the governor’s response to a life-threatening pandemic, in which Florida is approaching 1,000 deaths, is guided by his political ambitions.

The rest of the country has noticed the way our governor is handling COVID-19. And we are once again the punchline of America.

It seems even the members of his appointed committees have noticed that they are missing something – medical advice. Tasked with providing advice by Friday April 24,  on reopening the state, they have asked for more medical input.

What we really need are epidemiologists and public health experts guiding these committees. But after the state and county ignored the public health pleas of these same experts for weeks, it’s not surprising that the real experts on protecting our health would be sidelined as the conversation turns to opening things up again.

Fort Myers Beach

Our Town can, to some extent, make their own decisions on opening the beach, vacation rentals and restaurants, but we are at the mercy of what happens around us – what the county does, what other towns do.

As per Executive Order of the Governor, the Town can have more strict rules, but can’t be less strict in its rules than the state. Unless the governor changes the order.

Enforcement of our town rules regarding the beach has always been an uphill battle and if our rules differ from the county, it will be pandemonium.

We’re not advocating early opening of the beach by any means, just an understanding of the complexity of reopening. Once that flag drops, our town will be inundated with first, Lee County residents, then beyond. Normally this is a good thing as our beach draws our visitors who support our hospitality industry that is sorely hurting.

But it is safe to open the beach?

How will we know without easy access to adequate testing and contact tracing?

It appears the curve of new positive COVID-19 cases is flattening. Some say that is because it was never much of a threat at all. Public Health experts say it’s because large numbers of people followed social distancing guidelines and stayed home. Best estimates are that our county is in the 60% range of staying home. That is exactly the number that Dr. Antonucci told Lee County Commissioners we needed to flatten the curve.

But know this, that curve can change direction. Regardless of what is done or not done in the next few weeks, the COVID-19 virus remains a threat. There is no vaccine and there are not enough tests. COVID-19 will remain with us for as long as it takes for a vaccine to be in wide use, most likely over a year from now.

As a result, when things are opened up, don’t expect a return to the old “normal.” That’s gone. People are now attuned to protecting themselves from the virus and so long as the virus remains there will be hesitance to be around others. People will continue to wear masks and keep their distance.

Our community will thrive based on how well we are able to adapt to the new “normal.” Our challenge now is to determine what the new “normal” will be.

As a vacation destination, we have dodged a bullet by emerging from Spring Break without a major outbreak here. Our zip code area has held steady at six COVID-19 positive cases for a while now. But dodging one bullet does not make us bullet proof and there are more risks ahead.

If we open up our beaches, vacation rentals and restaurants, we must emphasize that all the social distancing rules still apply or we’ll be right back in lockdown, someplace none of us want to be.

 

 

Missy Layfield
Editor