Sarasota County’s population is projected to welcome back more than 100,000 seasonal residents — the “snowbirds” — from November through March; a period of time known locally as the “season.”
Based on housing data and U.S. Census projections, Sarasota County’s seasonal population is projected to swell from 386,147 to more than 500,000 this year.
Although county officials and agencies said no large-scale modifications to services and utilities are needed to adapt to the temporary population spike, they are taking concrete measures to ensure life goes on without a hitch — besides the traffic, of course.
The Sarasota County Health Department reported there is an increased risk of flu outbreak associated with the return of the snowbird population. The department cited the early arrival of the flu season in more northern states as the reason for the concern. Also, a department spokeswoman said Sarasota’s relatively large senior population makes the area more likely to see patients with serious complications related to the illness.
“When you get into the shopping season, there is the risk of more diseases,” said Dianne Shipley, Sarasota County Public Health public information officer. “We are constantly monitoring; if there is an uptick on something wider than an isolated event, we would mobilize to get the word out on that.”
Sarasota Fire Department Deputy Chief Rod VanOrsdol said Sarasota County typically sees a 6.5% spike in patient transports from December through January.
Staffing and shifts at county fire stations, however, should not need to be adjusted to match the uptick in demand, VanOrsdol said.
Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office
Managing the increase in area traffic and preventing property thefts are some of the top season-related concerns of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
Sarasota Sheriff’s Patrol Bureau Commander Capt. John Walsh said that many criminals see the holiday shopping season as an opportunity to commit property theft, particularly in mall shopping lots. The Sheriff’s Office will step up patrols in mall parking lots and other potential crime hot spots as a display of force meant to discourage criminal activity, Walsh said.
“People gravitate to malls and shopping centers, and that’s an opportunity for criminals,” Walsh said. “Our presence can deter crimes.”
Increased congestion on area roads is another visible indication that season is in full swing. The increased chance of traffic accidents and ensuring the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians is another top seasonal concern for the Sheriff’s Office.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital
A Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) spokeswoman said the number of on-call physicians will not change, but more nurse hours will be needed to accommodate the increased number of patients during season.
“The doctors are on call year-round,” SMH Senior Communications Editor Kim Savage said. “If volume goes up, then we’ll need more nurses and clinical teams.”
Savage said the hospital maintains a workforce of “per diem” nurses who work shifts based on the hospital’s needs, unlike staff nurses who work regular hours. The per diem nurse workforce allows the hospital to more efficiently match work schedules to daily patient demand.
“We staff to volume,” Savage said. “A lot of nurses take time off in the summer and work more hours in the season.”
Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected]