Lee County won’t issue stay at home order right now
Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman.

Brian Hamman
Six have died from COVID-19 in the county.

Despite facing a higher-than-average mortality rate for COVID-19 patients, Lee County Commissioners have yet to implement a stay-at-home order.

“None of this is an excuse to stop doing anything anybody is doing as far as social distancing,” said County Commissioner Brian Hamman. “Limiting contact is the most effective tool any of us have to fight COVID-19.”

Commissioners at an emergency meeting on Monday chose instead to approve a resolution supporting Surgeon General Scott Rivkees’ recommendations on social distancing and urging all residents 65 and older or with underlying health conditions to stay home.

County Manager Roger Desjarlais said ultimately, the stay-at-home orders approved by many Florida communities and allowable under Florida law have so many exceptions he cannot recommend approving one in Lee County right now.

“I can’t suggest to you a stay-at-home order because it’s so difficult to define and impossible to support,” he said.

But several elected officials in the region argued commissioners should take up an order.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers Republican, advocated for an order. As House Business and Professions Subcommittee Chair, Fitzenhagen said she’s aware of consequences of closing down all non-essential business, but it’s important government not just urge, but order residents to comply.

“I have seen pictures of people in Southwest Florida gathering, not taking social distancing techniques seriously,” she said.

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson also said he thought proposed measures for stay-at-home orders were acceptable and could always be revised later if necessary.

“We have to rally around Lee Health and support the emergency situation they are dealing with,” he said.

Fitzenhagen and Henderson are both Republican candidates for Congress in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

Mayors for Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach also supported an order, though Sanibel Councilwoman Holly Smith suggested citizens are already taking social distancing seriously.

Lee Health CEO Larry Antonucci has voiced support for further restrictions.

He reported hospitals have about 60% of their beds filled now, after getting more than 200 beds added to deal with emergency conditions. But he stressed commissioners should set policy thinking of worst-case scenarios, and he noted a stressed health care system won’t just impact COVID-19 patients, but also treatment for heart attacks, strokes and all other conditions.

Regardless of capacity, six of the 63 Florida deaths from COVID-19 happened in Lee County.

At the same time, some business leaders expressed concern over how an order would impact unemployment in the area.

County Commissioner Frank Mann said that conversation came up when he spoke with local law enforcement about the measure.

“An increase in unemployment has always had a direct relationship with the crime rate,” Mann said.

“When balanced with life and death issues, that shouldn’t be what makes our decision, but I think the public has responded admirably without an order to this crisis.”

Hamman pointed to drone footage showing little activity in area hot spots.

Notably, Hamman said he could support an order to close down private clubhouses and community pools, noting those are areas prone to community spread in active adult communities around Lee County. But such a measure did not come up for a vote Monday.

Officials stressed that social distancing needs to be improved further, and Hamman reminded President Donald Trump has extended guidelines on social distancing to April 30.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.


21 comments

  • Dr. Gary

    March 30, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    Dr. Antonucci is correct – you are continuing to increase the chances that my wife, an RN with Lee Health, contracts Covid-19.

    This reminds me of the opening scene from the movie “Jaws” where the Major refused to close the beaches because of tourism dollars.

    I understand the need to keep people working, especially since I am not working because of this. But how many lives will it take for you to shut down golf courses, for example? What is your algorithm for this? 20 lives? 40? 200?

    Please stop putting my wife and other health care workers more at risk by your refusal to do the hard, but right, thing.

    • RETIRED NURSE.

      March 31, 2020 at 1:06 pm

      I Agree. Make it Mandatory! Enforce it!

    • Shirley Tejeda

      March 31, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      Should have done this long ago. There are people out there that don’t care. I have a type 1 diabetic in my household. Shouldn’t the lives of people matter more then money right now.

  • Ohio Mom

    March 30, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    My young daughter moved to Lee County Florida last year from Ohio and that’s reckless that Lee County doesn’t care about their residents. At least the Republican Governor in Ohio cares about his citizens. I suspect Lee County/DeSantis will be involved in many lawsuits because they were negligent in protecting Floridians.

    • Ohio Mom

      March 31, 2020 at 7:36 am

      I agree with the Ohio mom, Because I am a Ohio mom too. But we all live in Lee County to.And my daughter works at a dog resort & my husband is a flooring Tech. And they both have to still work. It’s not worth losing them!! My daughter has asthma but she won’t quit. This place don’t care about their people! It’s all about money! No money is worth losing a life. Lee County issue a stay at home order before we lose anymore children, husband’s, wife’s and so on. Show that you care about your people!

    • Syephen

      April 1, 2020 at 7:40 am

      These politicians are living in high towers and they cannot see any ground realities. They should be taking steps so that we can be safe and free moving in a month or two. But these commissioners are waiting for few more deaths and covid19 to spread more, then they will wake AND SAY NOW WE CAN SHUT DOWN LEE COUNTY !!! I hope that the few deaths they are waiting to happens is not their near and dear ones. God bless

  • Donna

    March 30, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    “Lee County seems to have done well with social distancing over the weekend”…..how is that even acceptable? Home Depot along with nearby 7-Eleven store was busy as any other ordinary weekend with people in and out! My daughter’s neighbor was having a pool party for crying out loud! Do you call this social distancing? I totally disagree! The county CANNOT monitor everyone at the same time to even know! Our hospital staff cannot keep up with the cases we already have and they are already giving their lives to save our lives. Whose going to save theirs? It may affect the unemployment, but if our country would come together in unity. There are churches who reach out as well as other organizations, etc. to help those in need. We need to have a mandatory shelter in place! For those of you who disagree on the board whose pockets are full, you can help those less fortunate!

  • John

    March 30, 2020 at 3:34 pm

    Everyone needs to take this virus seriously and follow the cdc recommendations for social distancing and staying home when not absolutely necessary to leave but people need to stop overreacting as well , it’s sad but 100s of thousands of people die every year from all sorts of diseases , it’s certainly not acceptable and yet it happens because.. Well… That’s just life , and a large majority of those people are the ones with underlying conditions , again , it is just a fact another fact is your more likely to die in a car accident than from covid 19 do we ban driving ? No , of course not , we drive safely and enforce reasonable traffic laws , we don’t shut down the economy , that’s a proven recipe for poverty , suffering and higher mortality rates , I’m not saying do nothing but at the same time don’t overreact , I’m very proud of our wonderful co commissioners and governor for keeping a cool head and approaching this scenario with fact based decision making and a balance in their approach , I hope everyone remains safe and healthy during this event and we all pull together for everyone’s benefit as a veteran I have seen what can happen in other countries where death is a much bigger part of daily life then it is in our wonderfully blessed country , a free society requires personal responsibility from its citizens and everyone performing their civic duty. Stay safe everyone but don’t overreact

  • capt e

    March 30, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    follow the commander-in-chief’s covid19 task force guidelines to the letter, no exceptions. accept what your governor deems necessary for the state of fl. simply follow orders. accept what you cannot change. act with a virtue called honor. more rules, restrictions, and orders will make a bad situation worse. examine the real reason you said anything in the first place. if you really had a clue, they would have sent for you. follow the existing orders. don’t worry about making new ones that will become part of the problem, not the solution.

  • Ryan Scott

    March 30, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    How about those of us who live witg people who have health problems and we still have to go to work and have our jobs put us out among people and risk us bringing it home.im a delivery driver and my company claims to be essential but has salesmen home and the showroom closed to protect the counter guys but nothing to keep us from bringing it home.nor are they operating at 50% capacity like they are supposed to.so yea some people want to protect our loved ones but companies and government just wants money.

    • Kristie J Wainscott

      March 31, 2020 at 5:47 pm

      I totally agree .I am married to a heart patient and because they consider my daycare job essential I go to work and worry that when I get home and pass the virus to him.

  • Kristen

    March 30, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    Shame on you Brian! An infant died this week due to COVID! What if this happens under your watch? Would you still sleep at night! People are reckless and this needs to be enforced.

  • Carol

    March 30, 2020 at 8:32 pm

    I would love for someone to ask how many have died that were “suspected” of having the virus. Because it is my understanding that there are many. BUT they have not reported as virus death cases on the daily tally because these patients were never tested or they died before getting results back. In those instances, it is also my understanding the hospital has to record the cause of death to the most medically known cause at the time of death. Pneumonia, heart failure, etc. They cannot mention the virus as it was never confirmed.

  • Cary

    March 30, 2020 at 10:17 pm

    Please close all non-essential businesses. The more places open, the less people stay at home. Why do we need a shooting range or golf course open? Do we really need to buy a new recliner right now? Think about the delivery crew that has to go inside the customer’s house.

  • DEBBI KOHL

    March 31, 2020 at 9:47 am

    What is wrong with these politicians that we have elected to oversee our health and safety? We absolutely look like idiots to the rest of nation. We live in a state with one of the highest target audiences of this virus and we ignore what we are seeing everywhere in America. Elections are right around the corner…and you will be remembered for the actions taken now!!

  • Mary

    March 31, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    I have keep myself home for the last two week only leaving for dr. Appointment. We need lee county shut down . When I went to get my meds there is still a lot not taking this seriously. It is time they vote for shut down

  • Joe Guttieri

    March 31, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    Just because the beds are currently available is not an excuse to wait to implement a shelter in place order. Not only will it be a too late and an after the fact move waiting for whatever it is you are waiting for will needlessly endanger the lives of everyone including healthcare providers and their families. As of today 03/31 there were over 240 healthcare providers who were exposed and now in quarantine, and out of those several have tested positive. Where the hell do you think their replacements are going to come from? Stop waiting and also revise the plan to remove the excessive exceptions to the order!

  • Lisa

    April 1, 2020 at 6:25 am

    Lots of people have loss their jobs. We all want all this over as soon as possible so we can go back to work. But some non essential businesses are open (who needs a new recliner or dining room set at this point, or “I’m bored right now, let’s go play put put golf. Oh how about we all go to shooting range”). It doesn’t do any good some places open, and some are closed. Do like South Korea or Israel does. Get this over ASAP. We elected those officials to do their job for the the citizens’ best interests. Not sure what’s their agenda is. Remember next election!

    • Syephen

      April 1, 2020 at 7:44 am

      These politicians are living in high towers and they cannot see any ground realities. They should be taking steps so that we can be safe and free moving in a month or two. But these commissioners are waiting for few more deaths and covid19 to spread more, then they will wake AND SAY NOW WE CAN SHUT DOWN LEE COUNTY !!! I hope that the few deaths they are waiting to happens is not their near and dear ones. God bless

  • walter jameson

    April 1, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Step up and protect the public, you took an oath, now honor it.

  • Ohiomom

    April 1, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    Well Lee County- I guess you will be MADE to keep your residents safe. Thank You DeSantis- better late than never

Comments are closed.


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