The week of April 27 might be remembered as the week in which lives in Collier County and Marco Island began the long journey back to a sense of normalcy. This after two months where residents, businesses and visitors endured day after day of negative news and an undercurrent of uncertainty and fear regarding the future.
In the last two weeks, state, county and local government officials began a cautious and thoughtful process of looking at how to proceed to slowly return the areas under their control to a sense of normalcy.
County Votes to Reopen Some Amenities
On March 28th, the Board of County Commissioners for Collier County gave a restrained nod to opening the beaches under their control. That 3-2 vote in favor of the opening came with reservations, however, as Commissioners Solis and Taylor cautioned their fellow board members of moving too quickly.
Commissioner Andy Solis touched on the subject of dealing with a non-resident influx to the beaches.
County Commissioner Penny Taylor, whose district covers the City of Naples, cautioned the board that the rumors that the east coast beaches have begun to reopen were not accurate. She reported that she had spoken to representatives from Miami, Miami Beach and Broward County, saying they had not opened those beaches.
Commission Chairman Burt Saunders reminded his fellow commissioners that the Governors Executive Order put the responsibility into the local jurisdiction’s hands in dealing with the issue. “Should we see there is a problem, we could move forward to reverse an order opening them,” stated Saunders.
The openings included concessions and sanitary facilities. On Marco Island, that would include the South Beach access point and parking area, Tigertail Beach, and the Caxambas Boat Ramp.
The commissioners on a split vote of 3-2 agreed to reopen the Collier County Beaches starting this Thursday. Commissioners Saunders, Fiala and McDaniel voted in the affirmative. Commissioners Taylor and Solis opposed.
They also instructed the County Manager to reopen the County Parks, but not allow for organized sports. That instruction would include “hard-court” surfaces. Swimming pools and playgrounds will continue to remain closed.
Marco Meets and Votes
The City Council on Marco Island met at 9 AM on April 29th and voted to reopen the two neighborhood access points under their control. Earlier in the day, the Marco Island Civic Association announced they would be reopening the parking area Sarazen Park, which is adjacent to the South Beach Access Point, in addition to the Residents Beach Parking on Collier Boulevard for its members.
The city also concurred with the county regarding opening of the Caxambas Boat Ramp, which earlier in the month they had requested the county to close.
Earlier in the meeting, on Wednesday morning, they heard from Stephanie Vick of the Florida Department of Health regarding the latest updates concerning the COVID-19 issues. Vick had given a similar update to the Collier County Commissioners on Tuesday.
Vick advised the council that there had been no identified treatments or vaccines developed as of this time regarding the viral outbreak.
At this time, there have been a total of 11 cases identified here on Marco Island and a total of 562 cases within Collier County. The trend has remained relatively flat recently with no shortages of beds within healthcare facilities or of ventilators. She also reported they were only testing those considered in “high risk” categories.
Vick complimented residents for taking the advisories from health agencies very seriously, which has resulted in a good job in regard to “social distancing,” which will reduce exposure to the virus.
She also reported that NCH has procured technology which will allow for testing for antibodies. This equipment should go online shortly, but a vaccine could be a year to 18 months away. She also emphasized the continued need for “social distancing,” the use of masks and aggressive handwashing as a way to help limit the spread of the disease.
The City Council also instructed the manager to continue keeping the Mackle Park Building and the Racquet Club closed; while opening other hard surfaces for citizens’ use.
City Manager McNees cautioned the council that they would have to wait for the announcement from this week’s briefing by the governor regarding the plans for moving forward, prior to making any further decisions. However, he suggested that the council follow the suggested Federal 3- Phase Guidelines that have been adopted by the State of Florida. That plan reflects how to cautiously bring communities back online, provided the evidence is in place that supports we are ready to do so.
Governor Moves Forward with First Phase of Federal Guidelines
In the Executive Order put forward by Governor DeSantis later last week, he declared the following.
- Executive Order 20-112 extends Airport Screening and Isolation (E.O. 20-80), and the mandatory quarantine (14 days) of individuals traveling to Florida (E.O. 20-82).
- Prohibition on vacation rentals remains in effect until otherwise ordered.
- Bars nightclubs, fitness centers/gyms, barbershops and salons will remain closed.
- Businesses are encouraged to provide delivery or pickup and to take orders online or by telephone.
- Restaurants will be allowed to reopen with indoor seating at 25% of building occupancy. Outdoor seating will not exceed what was previously approved by the City of Marco Island
- In-store retail sales may open storefronts if operated at 25% building occupancy and abide by the Center of Disease Control Safety Guidelines.
- Temporary signs which violate the city ordinance shall be removed.
All of these changes, however, may only be temporary and depend upon the ability of residents and visitors to follow those guidelines. Restrictions could return should the data show a rise in those being infected.