Virus Cases Surge on Sanibel; Council Holds Special Meeting

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
photos by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen

Sanibel City Council meets in a special meeting Monday, Dec. 14.

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.

Center4Life has been closed since March and council will discuss its reopening in May.

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.”

Comments (4)

  1. There are too many cases of the virus on Sanibel. We do not have: nursing homes, congested living quarters or overpopulation. A good number of our residents are staying home or close to home as we have been doing since March.
    We should well be able to flatten the curve and reverse the rise. If indeed the council finds this “of considerable concern”, and they are taking it “very seriously “, then now is the time to “consider new regulations”. We, your taxpaying residents highly suggest you “consider” restrictions on beach parking lots, the size of crowds, indoor dining, gymnasiums, and bars.
    This is totally in line with other cities, states, countries where control of COVID is being targeted head on.
    “Please wear a mask” is not sufficient to tackle a deadly virus. Obviously not only has it not worked for Sanibel, our numbers are surging.

  2. I am very appreciative of the city council and all they are doing to ensure the safety of those on our islands in regards to COVID. Due to my work, I am out and about often. I believe the majority of folks are taking this seriously and yet the influx of our seasonal residents and our visitors are a possible cause of the increase in cases. More people on the island = more cases. There are lots of masks around the island that I see – so that is good! I have noticed tho’ that more than one of our wonderful restaurants on the island has gone back to 100% capacity as per our short sighted (whoops) governor and folks are crowding in. Good for business I know, but bad for the spread of COVID. Happily, others are still maintaining the social distancing rules in their restaurants on their own. Very proud of them as I know how much this has hurt their businesses. It is important we support our island businesses and I hope we can do so safely. The increased residents and visitors – all from other places – are almost certainly causing the increase of cases as well as the quarantine burnout that some feel. There will always be those on the island that are fatalistic or do not believe in the efficacy of masks and other strategies; what each of us CAN do is take personal responsibility for ourselves and practice good hygiene – washing your hands, use of hand sanitizer – wearing a mask (to protect others) and socially distance whenever and wherever possible. Be kind to each other and to yourselves. Once again, thank you so much to our city council for trying so hard to protect the residents and visitors of Sanibel.

  3. I hope the council keeps in mind these are still extremely low numbers and not to over react. Social distancing is clearly supported by science and logic. Masks primarily remind people to do the right thing, wash hands often, don’t touch your face and social distance.
    We appreciate all the work and effort the council members do for Sanibel.
    Bob Blakely

  4. Charles Armfield

    I am wondering if the rise in Covid cases on Sanibel is due in part to those people referred to as “snowbirds”. They are now returning to Sanibel after spending several months in other states and contracted the virus in those states or on the way home. Has there been or is there any way to check this out?
    May everyone stay safe and healthy on Sanibel.

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