by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
photos by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
Sanibel had the largest increase in virus cases in a single week at 18 from Dec. 12 to Dec. 18. That brings the total number of cases to 121 since the first case was reported in March, according to a report released Dec. 18 by the Florida Department of Health. December has already broken the record for new cases in a month at 41. November held that record with 28 cases.
The recent rise in cases on the island brought Sanibel City Council members together in a special meeting Monday, Dec. 14, and Mayor Mick Denham had three items on his agenda: Improving social distance and mask wearing at the Sanibel Farmer’s Market, extending the closure of Center4Life and additional signage as reminders to wear a mask.
The Sanibel Farmer’s Market, which operates on city grounds, is being promoted as a “grab-and-go market” this season. Co-operator of the market Jean Baer told the Santiva Chronicle in October they were encouraging people to know what they want to buy when the come to the market or order from vendors in advance.
Baer told council members on Monday they expanded the market’s footprint, which helped “spread the crowd.” And mask wearing was the “best” they have seen it; additional signage seemed to help. She suggested extending the market hours by one hour, opening at 7:30 a.m. and closing at 1:30 p.m., to further help reduce the crowd.
Council members recognized the efforts of Baer and her partner Betsy Ventura in creating a safe farmer’s market for vendors and shoppers. But in an additional effort to prevent further spread of the virus, council unanimously voted to have city staff work with Baer and Ventura on further extending the market’s footprint and its hours.
Council also unanimously voted to address the reopening of Center4Life, the island’s senior center, in its May meeting. The Center4Life has been closed since the start of the pandemic in March and staff have been furloughed. Although some activities have been taking place at the Sanibel Community House.
Councilman Richard Johnson initially made a motion to extend the center’s closing through May 1, stating he felt it was “important to get a date out there.” But Sanibel resident Dr. Steve Brown cautioned the council on setting any dates because no one knows when the pandemic will end.
“I encourage you not to make false predictions on when to open or close something,” Brown said. And resident Maryann Bell agreed with him. She said setting a date would indicate the “virus is gone by that date” and it was a “negative way to educate the public.”
In a third unanimous move, council approved a temporary sign on Causeway Boulevard, closer to Periwinkle Way, as a reminder to drivers coming onto the island to wear a mask. It’s the second sign set up on Causeway Boulevard with the mask message. Council approved an electronic sign in its regular meeting Dec. 1.
The city’s declared state of emergency proclamation, which has been extended to Dec. 22, includes a mandate on wearing a mask or face covering while indoors at public places.
Denham has been a strong advocate of masks in preventing further spread of the virus. He has been working closely with the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce in disseminating the message of wearing a mask to visitors and businesses and partnered with the Chamber on a mask challenge. “Masks are really, really important,” he said on Monday.
He also made it clear the council has no intentions of relaxing current COVID-19 restrictions, but the recent surge in cases is “of considerable concern” that made it necessary to review and consider new regulations. He added another reason for the special meeting was to let citizens know council members are attending to business and taking the pandemic “very seriously.”