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Sunset in Bonita Bay.

SW Florida

In Lee County, realities of a pandemic dawn at last in the land of sunsets

COVID-19 claimed 20 Southwest Florida lives so far, 10 in Lee County alone.

The Lee County Commission twice in a week decided a stay-at-home order wasn’t warranted for the community.

But a convergence of daunting data prompted Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann to reconsider his position. As the death tally in Lee reached double digits, all while new cases continued am ascent, he requested an emergency meeting.

“My change of mind came from reading every news story talk about deaths increasing, possibly into the thousands for the U.S., and I thought this overwhelmingly feels necessary,” he said.

As it happened, Gov. Ron DeSantis beat Lee County to it. An hour after Mann called for county order, a statewide safer-at-home measure was announced. Instead, Mann called for the Lee County Commission to offer its endorsement of the measure, a motion that passed unanimously.

As Southwest Florida, the only part of Florida where not a singly county had issued a stay-at-home or safer-at-home order, the prospect of a lockdown appeared on the horizon at last. But no one can say it arrived without warning.

The numbers delivered particularly bruising news for region. In addition to the two additional Lee County residents felled by COVID-19, the Department of Health reported a new death in Manatee County as well.

There’s no longer any county south of the Sunshine Skyway, even the remote inland communities, that remained free of coronavirus cases.

COVID-19 has claimed lives in Highlands, DeSoto and Glades counties, areas far from the region’s major population centers. In total, 20 residents of Southwest Florida have lost their lives to a sickness that one month prior was only beginning to surface in the state.

The pandemic touched the world of politics. Congressional candidate Darren Aquino on Wednesday revealed he tested positive for COVID-19. He’s quarantined in his condo in Naples, where he worries his wife has started to show symptoms as well.

In Fort Myers, City Councilman Kevin Anderson disclosed he too had fallen ill. He told WINK News he likely was infected on a cruise that ended March 6, though he showed no symptoms for days, and was not tested until March 26. He too will recover in self-quarantine.

In total, 624 individuals in a region of 2.3 million have tested positive. Of those, 137 remain hospitalized.

In a retirement haven where the mortality rate always ran the risk of running high, casualties of COVID-19 include a share of individuals in their 70s, 80s and 90s. But it also includes a 28-year-old man who died in Sarasota and a 39-year-old who passed in Lee, to date the two youngest victims of coronavirus in the state of Florida.

Now suddenly, a region teeming in wealth, one where personal freedoms provide an underlay for the majority of campaigns, residents prepare for lockdown for the very first time.

Written By

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.

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