Looking at COVID Data Beyond Sanibel Makes Sense

by SC Guest Contributor Barbara Joy Cooley

The number of COVID cases posted on the City of Sanibel web site is meaningless, because it includes only people who reside in Sanibel. Our community is so much more than just the people who live on Sanibel.

For all Lee County residents, Sanibel is their jewel of a sanctuary island, a place they can visit and treasure. Those people are also a part of the Sanibel community.

The people who work in Sanibel businesses and non-profits for the most part live on the mainland. Still, they are a part of our Sanibel community.

The people who come to work on building, repairing, or enhancing our built environment and landscapes are also an important part of our community. Most of them, too, live off island.

And of course, Sanibel visitors are a significant number of those present on the island every day, especially in late Fall through early Spring. They are part of the Sanibel community, too. To protect our greater Sanibel community, our city council passed a mask mandate last June.

Our entire community depends on the Lee County health care system.

The COVID numbers we need to consider are not the numbers of Sanibel residents who have or have had COVID. We need to look at other numbers that pertain to the county as a whole.

Lee Health – the main health care system that we all depend on – publishes a small report daily, and a larger one weekly, to provide us with some useful information. Let’s take a look at Lee Health’s COVID report for December 14:

• We currently have 137 COVID-19 patients isolated in our hospitals (inpatient).
• Since Friday, we had 55 new COVID-19 hospital admissions and 61 COVID-19 discharges.
• A total of 3,719 COVID-19 patients have been discharged since the beginning of this pandemic.
• Monday, we had a 16.2% positivity rate on COVID-19 tests processed through Lee Health Labs.
• Currently 72% of our ventilators and 20% of our ICU rooms are available for use. We have 8 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 20 in the intensive care unit.
• Current census is at 85% of staffed operational bed capacity, with 11% of those being COVID-19 patients.

That operational bed capacity is an important number to watch with concern. This is only December 15. As the population of the county reaches its seasonal peak this winter, the 85% figure is likely to become 100% unless we all become even more diligent about staying home, wearing masks when we must leave the house, avoiding places where the mask mandate is not respected, avoiding gatherings, washing hands, and maintaining social distance.

Another number of concern in the December 14 report is the positivity rate (percentage of all tests performed that turn out to be positive). According to Johns Hopkins University, “The higher the percent positive is, the more concerning it is. As a rule of thumb, however, one threshold for the percent positive being ‘too high’ is 5%. For example, the World Health Organization recommended in May that the percent positive remain below 5% for at least two weeks before governments consider reopening. If we are successful in bringing coronavirus transmission under control, this threshold might be lowered over time.”

So our 16.2% positivity rate is more than three times higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended limit for opening.

Large-scale availability of one of the new vaccines is still months away. In the meantime, we all need to do better, and our county elected officials need to do much better. The City of Sanibel can do more to enforce its mask mandate and to inform the greater Sanibel community of where violations of that mandate are occurring. That information should not be kept secret; informing the community can save lives. Keeping secrets can kill.

Comments (14)

  1. Thank you for an informative layout of reality. Similar ongoing information can only help to make us more diligent in protecting ourselves and others. Making us aware of violators allows us opportunity to protect ourselves and motivate violators to make necessary adjustments.

  2. Totally agree with most of your essay, Barbara. Great information as always! The last part is the only part I take issue with – it assumes the city staff have knowledge of where violations of the mask mandate are happening, as if it is a particular location, business or group. I really do not think it is that simple. Due to my work life here on the island and my charity work, I am all over the island a lot and am frequently in public places as well as island communities. For the most part, I am encouraged by the cooperation I have seen and the number of people wearing their masks and behaving. I can’t be everywhere – and neither can city staff or the police – so I am sure there are folks that violate the mandate. Still, I know residents who did everything right and still got COVID. It happens. I certainly think our county commissioners, who refuse to consider a mask mandate, could do better. But I do not think the city staff and officials are keeping secrets or not doing their best to keep us safe. Privacy laws, living in a democracy (I think we are still that) and just plain being human make this whole thing very challenging for everyone including our city officials. I love Mick’s Mask Challenge and I hope folks take him up on it!

    Thanks Barbara, for all your essays and the things you do to educate and inform and speak from your heart. Thank goodness we all live in a country where we can. And on a island that stands up most of the time for us all when other communities around us do not.

  3. Barbara Joy Cooley

    Thanks, Valerie. At last Monday ‘s council meeting, the council briefly discussed whether to publish the names of two restaurants that have repeatedly violated the mask mandate. On the advice of John Henshaw, they decided not to. I don’t know the names of those restaurants. If I did, I would tell everybody.

    • Thank you Barbara. Very useful information. Unacceptable, if not outright irresponsible behaviour on the part of the restaurants and the council. We all deserve the right to know which restaurants or any other island shops are violating the mask mandate.The council knows but will not disclose? Transparency is necessary not optional when it comes to personal safety measures in a pandemic.

  4. Thank you Barbara for your research and publication. We also will never know who brought COVID here or contracted it here and took it home to another community. Perhaps the SC could publish the Lee Health report each week?

  5. Thank you. VERY informative.

  6. Thank you Barbara. This is great/impactful data delivered in a very understandable manner. I agree with your point on releasing names of violating (especially repeaters) businesses. No different than reading the restaurant compliance scores we see in the newspapers routinely. Knowledge will help most make better decisions.

  7. Thank you Barbara! As a COVID case on Sanibel, I can tell you that it is infuriating to try to figure out how you got it, especially when you are being careful. Obviously, what we are doing is not enough, and the City Council feels they cannot do much more as they are hamstrung by the Governor. I believe I was Case #77 on 11/15, 8 months after we started counting. One month later we are at 120 cases. Im not a mathematician, but even I can see that is an alarming uptick! I have personally witnessed vacationers who seem to think they are on vacation from COVID when they come to Sanibel. We are in for a very tough few months, thanks for all you are doing to keep people informed.

  8. Thanks, Barbara, for your well written article. I agree with what you’ve said. One additional important point I would make is that during this time, informed & intelligent leadership is essential. Governor Desantis has failed miserably in his management of the covid crisis, & I believe is directly responsible for the significantly increased number of covid cases & deaths in Florida. I hope all Floridians will vote him out of office when the opportunity comes to do so.

  9. Good informative article, Barbara. I look forward to updates!

  10. Barbara-

    I agree that a 16.2% positivity rate is terrifying. But can you share the published/online source of at from Lee Health Labs? The FL DOH Dashboard has been showing in the range of 7-9% which is also published daily by the News Press Coronavirus Watch newsletter.


    Of course, even 7-9% is awful, considering that after the spring surge, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were down to 1-2% by the end of the summer. What is the huge difference?


  11. Well written article, thanks Barbara, keep up the good work!

  12. Barbara et al,
    A friend went to Cip’s and did not think they were taking masks seriously. She told one of the waiters to please put one on, and he did. However, the man behind the bar, who she thought was the manager) did not wear one and did not tell people at the bar to either.
    Edina Lessack

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