Heed the guidelines from federal, state and local authorities.
Everyone knows that for the time being, life has changed as we normally know it. Public amenities and beach access points are closed, events and meetings have been canceled. Heck, even city and town halls are closed to the public and you have to call, email, or make an appointment! Many private associations’ amenities are also closed or severely restricted.
We are all responding to the impacts of an international pandemic, that is also a very local issue. The first illness reported to the World Health Organization was in China on Dec. 31, 2019. The first confirmed positive test in the United States took place in January. The spread of the disease was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Jan. 30h and on March 1, the Florida Department of Health announced the first two cases in Florida, one of which was in Manatee County.
Here we are in late March, and the number of confirmed positives, as well as the number of individuals being tested continues to increase. As of March 27, there were 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sarasota County and 28 in Manatee County for a total of 68 confirmed positives in our area. This does not include a number of individuals with no symptoms who have been directed to self-quarantine due to their exposure to those patients that have tested positive. Based on information that has been reported, clearly there are active community transmissions that have occurred in Sarasota and Manatee County, and potentially on Longboat Key.
That doesn’t mean we need to panic, some of this is expected with the increase in testing capacity. It is also important to realize that many patients recover after becoming ill. But it does reinforce that we are in the active stage of an emergency. This type of public health emergency in many ways is managed using the traditional emergency management concepts of incident management, but it is a very different type of event. For one, it is a much longer duration during the “emergency phase” which we are in now compared to a major fire, tornado, or hurricane. In a hurricane, the damage occurs over a short period of time and then we may go into a longer period of recovery. In the active stage of a hurricane, though, there is a period at some point when the winds are so high, that we all stay in doors and ride it out.
That is like the “Stay at Home” or “Shelter in Place” orders that some states and counties are issuing. If you read those orders carefully they include a number of practical exceptions, going to the grocery store, the pharmacy, your doctor, taking your dog outside for a walk, picking up food from a take-out restaurant, and some level of recreational exercising (walking, biking, etc). We are essentially in that same phase. Though the county and/or state may have not issued that specific of an order, practically the collection of the CDC and Public Health Advisories, and Governor’s Executive Orders provide the same guidance. It is a time during this emergency that people should stay home and minimize interaction with others as much as possible.
Due to the age of many of our residents (69% are 65 years of age or older) and their active mobility we tend to have a more vulnerable population. Special advisories have been issued by the Florida Surgeon General regarding certain groups of the population based on age and health conditions and it is strongly recommended that those advisories be followed. The key in many of these advisories goes back to the basics, especially social distancing.
Under Florida statutes, county governments become the lead agencies during a declared emergency. Based on our Interlocal Agreement with Sarasota and Manatee counties during a declared emergency we work under the direction of Sarasota County. We do keep in contact with our neighbors to the north and to Manatee County. We also talk and collaborate with our Emergency Management and Public Health partners daily.
The town recognizes that this is a dynamic emergency that continues to evolve and can be very frustrating. During these types of emergencies accurate information is important. The town’s website at www.longboatkey.org is our primary source of information and it is updated at least once a day, and more often if new information needs to be shared. You will also find links there to the CDC and Florida Department of Health for additional information. We will continue to monitor conditions and take further actions as necessary to protect the public and our employees.
Thank you for your support during COVID-19, and the proactive compliance with the orders and advisories that are in place that help protect all of us. Please continue to monitor our website for updated information and remember the basics.
Tom Harmer is the town manager of Longboat Key