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.