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Fort Myers Beach mayor wants county to issue shelter in place order

March 29, 2020
Nathan Mayberg , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda, responding to what she said was a request from the Lee County Board of Commissioners to all of the county's mayors for their input, sent out a plea asking the county to close all non-essential businesses and order a shelter in place.

The commissioners are scheduled to hold an emergency meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Monday during which they are scheduled to discuss ways to inform the public on how to limit the transmission of COVID-19. A draft resolution does not mention a shelter in place order, which has been requested by Cereceda and others to the commissioners.

Instead the resolution would codify the public health advisory from the state department of health and surgeon general encouraging citizens over the age of 65 and individuals with high-risk health conditions to stay home in order to limit exposure to COVID-19. The advisory also encourages businesses to reduce on-site workforce capacity to 50%.

Article Photos

An empty Old San Carlos Boulevard on Saturday.

In her letter, Cereceda noted how the town has asked potential visitors to stay home.

"We have closed our beaches, our hotels and restaurants are also closing. We have encouraged our residents to shelter in place but for essential services. I am going to continue to follow the CDC guidelines in the strictest way as is my community."

While some hotels like the DiamondHead Beach Resort have closed along with some smaller inns, most of the town's resorts have remained open despite seeing a collapse in the number of guests. The streets in town have been almost ghostlike apart from some bicyclists and walkers.

The Lani Kai Island Resort, Wyndham Garden, Best Western and Outrigger Beach Resort are among the larger establishments in town still booking guests.

The Pink Shell Resort reported just eight rooms filled out of 200 on Thursday. Though Cereceda said officials are encouraging residents to only go out for essential services, there have been no official actions by the town council to do so though it has prohibited the public from going on the beach, closed town parks and town facilities.

While many of the restaurants in town have shuttered for the time being though several remain open for takeout including Bonita Bill's, Charley's Boathouse Grille and Wine Bar, Matanzas on the Bay, Nervous Nellie's, Parrot Key Caribbean Grill and The Sandbar & Grille.

All new vacation rentals in town, a significant portion of its residential properties, have been suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis. That has further reduced the number of people in town.

"We are pleading with you to take the strongest step forward possible to protect and preserve the lives of all Lee County residents," Cereceda stated in her letter. "Every moment of delay has the potential to cost lives.

Please do not allow Lee County to become the next casualty in this global war on COVID-19."

Cereceda called on the county to "stop the flow of visitors to our area as they are increasing our levels of vulnerability every day. Please take bold measures now. The Town of Ft. Myers Beach stands with you and we are ready to assist in any way possible."

The mayor said she wrote to the county on her own in consultation with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt. The town council has not met since a March 19 emergency meeting during which it closed all town beaches and shut off all access to the beach.

Councilmember Rexann Hosafros, who was the lone councilmember to vote against the beach ban, said she supported the mayor's actions. "The mayor is acting on the advice she is receiving from conferences (with county officials and other mayors) they are having with the sheriff and medical professionals," Hosafros said. "She is acting on the best information she has."

Vice Mayor Ray Murphy also said he backed Cereceda's request for a shelter in place. "If we all did it, we will stop the spread of the virus," he said. "It's tough on everybody, particularly the small businesses." Murphy said the people who will be hurt the most are the workers who can least afford being out of a job. "There will be help for them."

Cereceda said she received a "bunch of calls" asking her if she had the authority to issue her two latest statements representing the town. The mayor said she has been working "hand in hand" with Hernstadt. They talk by phone about 10 times a day or more, she said. She is considering just letting Hernstadt make the decisions. A new town council will take office April 6.

"I'm doing the best job I can," Cereceda said. "Panicking is the last thing anybody needs to do."

Lee County Commissioner Ray Sandelli, whose district includes Fort Myers Beach, could not be reached for comment.



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