Sanibel Declares Local State of Emergency as Result of COVID-19

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes

Sanibel City Hall offices operating “no contact” per CDC and Health Department guidelines. City declares local state of emergency. SC photo by Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen

The Sanibel City Council met in a special meeting Wednesday, March 18, and declared a local state of emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s effective for seven days and can be extended, modified or terminated.

The declaration provides Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane the ability to make certain decisions that would normally require a vote by the city council. It’s purpose is two-fold: giving operational flexibility without convening multiple council meetings in a fluid situation and grants access to state and federal funding, explained City Attorney John Agnew.

Agnew also read numerous emailed public comments into the record and they ranged from a call to close the island and beaches to tourists or limiting access to those with hurricane passes or testing people before crossing the Sanibel Causeway to some who believe the seriousness of the virus has been hyped.

“Our community is as divided on this as I have ever seen,” said Ruane. “If we start to do any actions, we need to understand what the repercussions are from a health point of view and an economic point of view, as well as the staff and resources we have available to us.”

He cautioned what the city has the ability to do and that residents are mistaken on the ability of what the city can do.

Ruane explained that the city doesn’t own the causeway and people need to understand there are a lot of severe limitations. He also said the number of vehicles crossing the bridge is off by 40 percent. March is historically the causeway’s heaviest month year over year with more than 350,000 vehicles using the bridge.

“This is different than any other emergency that we’ve had,” said Ruane. “We’ve never been prepared for this and people have written to say leadership is doing a great job and not doing a great job. I don’t know that we, as a country, can ever be prepared for a situation as wide spread as this.”

City Manager Judie Zimomra gave an overview of what the city has done and is doing as a precaution to limit the spread of the virus, which is highly contagious and a potentially deadly respiratory illness with senior adults at the highest risk of infection.

She said cancellation of special events on the island began very early compared to other cities. “I think much driven by the demographics and age of our community.”

The city’s declaration came on the heels of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ordering the closure of bars, pubs and nightclubs for 30 days; public beach gatherings be limited to 10 people and spaced at least six feet from other groups; and restaurants to limit occupancy to 50 percent capacity, space tables six feet apart and limit groups to no more than 10.

“(The Governor) made some very dramatic steps and I suspect they will continue to evolve as this evolves,” said Mayor Ruane.

In other public comments during the meeting, Sanibel resident Doctor Stephen Brown gave the council a report as of March 17 from Lee Health where he is chairman of the board.

He said the hospital had two patients diagnosed with the virus and 147 specimens had been collected. Sixty hospital employees were quarantined and 32 patients tested. There have been 12 negative results with 21 pending. The hospital is limiting visitors to patients, which he foresees being stopped completely very soon.

He encouraged social distance and hand washing or the use of hand sanitizer when washing is not available. “This is a serious, serious crisis that could go on for two months,” he said. “We need to keep a close eye on this.”

Additionally, Sanibel Fire & Rescue District Board Chairman Jerry Muench told council that they have a similar declaration prepared, but it has not been activated. “We can (activate it) at a moment’s notice and are ready to go,” he said.

Comments (8)

  1. I think the farmers market should be canceled. I go to the beach every morning and I put myself way away from other people my bike is out with me to block space and people come right by me. They could touch my bike. I have noticed people are not adhering to this guidelines.
    You cannot wait in a line with 6′ between you. Many of the booths are tight inside and packed with people .You cannot pay a vendor with 6′ between you.
    I love the market and go every sunday however I did not go this sunday. These vendors are highly exposed because of their work. Then they are exposed to locals and visitors.
    Thanks for your hard work and help dealing with this situation.

    • I Super Strongly agree with closing the Farmer’s Market until further notice for health and safety reasons at this time.

    • agree I am so surprised it hasn’t been canceled….Is the thinking ….it is outside…so it will be ok…???? so Not ok!!!!

  2. Richard Holler

    We have reservations to use our two week time share at the end of April at Casa Ybel Resort. We are from Jersey and bought our Air Fare already. We are Praying every day that this terrible tragedy will end soon. Our Prayers for the people who live in Sanibel Island remain Safe. We have vacationed over 30 years in Paradise.

  3. The City of Sanibel should not allow the Sanibel farmers market to continue this Sunday or on Sundays in the near future. It is completely irresponsible to have this event continue for the time being. I love the farmers market, but you are elbow to elbow and people often bump into you. You touch merchandise that other people have touched. There is a reason why states are enacting shelter in place orders. There’s a reason why governors are ordering people to congregate in numbers no greater than ten at a time. With a COVID-19 Ro contagion factor of at least 3, one person with corona at the farmers market has the ability to affect and ultimately infect hundreds on the island. Then tourists who attend the farmers market will leave and go back to their respective states and countries and infect others. This is purely and completely irresponsible. More than 600 people died in Italy yesterday within a 24 hour period. More than 600 people! Contagion experts have indicated that we are a mere 11 days behind Italy in contagion trajectory terms unless we immediately flatten the curve and engage in social distancing. Despite the “spin” the farmers market organizers are putting on this that this is merely a grocery store, it isn’t. It is a place for people to congregate and socialize and infect others. This is the exact opposite of social distancing.

  4. No Parking? Maintain 6’? What a joke. We live on Nerita and decided to walk down to the beach. Well, the Nerita parking lot was overflowing with cars, a few were even parked on Nerita between the two condo buildings just north of the parking lot. The bicycle parking was overflowing with some bikes parked on the beach. The beach area at the south end of the walkway bridge looked no different than a regular season-day of visitors. The 6’ intervals were being violated as were the total numbers of people in a couple of the assembled groups. We chose not to take our daily walk. No one out there seemed to have a care in the world. I still have to laugh about the complete lack of any parking enforcement. If parking is open, then say that. Maybe a barrier or a sign announcing the parking restrictions? Maybe. What a joke. The sad thing is that those who ignore the city’s efforts to keep us healthy will cause a reaction that will not allow any of we property owners to walk the beach. I hope that doesn’t happen. Please, make an effort to enforce what has been mandated.

  5. Barbara Stevelman

    Island residents or hurrican passes, and llicensed tradesman, These are the ONLY PEOPLE who should be allowed across the causeway. It is our City Hall and our officers job to put Saibel-Captiva attention first!! Parking a Bailey’s for instance,is used by visitors to te beaches. Same for Doc Ford’s/

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