Every morning even before getting out of bed, I grab my phone and check the numbers. How many new deaths in Florida? How many new deaths in Sarasota?
What’s happening in Longboat Key?
So far the numbers for LBK have been pretty good. The Sarasota half of LBK reports no new cases. Manatee reports two active cases. But can these numbers be believed?
The Florida Health Department reports 30 cases in the Manatee portion on LBK and 5 cases in the Sarasota portion of LBK.
It is natural that government agencies and local newspapers do not want to report bad news as it might scare away the tourists and depress real estate values. Might even cause a “panic”, as President Trump told Bob Woodward earlier this year.
The figures for Longboat Key are especially suspect. On any given day, the town has thousands of short-term tourists and if they get sick, are counted as being from somewhere else and not included in LBK figures. The island also has hundreds of daily off-island workers who, if sick, are reported elsewhere as well.
LBK has thousands of second-home owners like famed playwright, Terrence McNally who died of Covid19 in a Sarasota hospital on March 24. McNally’s death was credited to New York City because that was his official residence, even though he had a condo at the Water Club.The trouble with Florida Health Department figures is that they rely on self-reporting as to the official residence of the patient or the deceased.
In a resort and second-home community like Longboat Key, state health officials concede that their figures lead to a misleading sense of security in terms of pandemic location tracking.
Unsurprisingly, a quick look at the tax rolls shows a large number of homeowners from Canada, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, as well as other parts of Florida.
What counts is where the medical bills are sent, not where people get sick.
The week of September 10 showed a marked spike in Covid19-positive totals in Sarasota hospitals.
The financial impact has been disastrous. According to the County website, the total disaster estimates are near $8 million. The cumulative positivity rate for Sarasota County is 8.55% and the seven-day positive rate is 3.1%. This is down from 11% in August, but up from 1% in the beginning of June.
Dealing with these confusing numbers is a challenge according to LBK Town Manager Tom Harmer, who has to continually work with incomplete and contradictory information.
What more can LBK do?
East Hampton, a resort town similar to Longboat Key, announced last week new phases of a communications campaign aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.
East Hampton shared its new campaign goals in a PowerPoint that read: “As Covid-19 will affect the way we carry out our daily lives for the foreseeable future,it is imperative that the town continues to take a leading role organizing safety protocols and communicating with residents, business owners, second homeowners, renters, and visitors the ways in which we can work together to keep everyone healthy and safe and to keep our local economy, businesses, and beaches open,” According to the East Hampton Star.
The campaign called for new, eight-by-four-foot signs in high-visibility locations. “For the health of our community,” they read, “wear a mask” and “stay 6 feet apart”. A social media campaign that began on July 1 shares similar messaging.
The Town Board voted to spend up to $10,000 per month to retain a public relations firm into November.
The campaign will “educate target audiences about how they can contribute to making the Town of East Hampton a safe and healthy place for all,” according to the presentation. “This campaign will encourage all members of the community to support these efforts, as each individual has an integral role to play in keeping the community safe and open for all.”
I can never say this enough: Longboat Key residents are an aged population, in our seventies and eighties. If you are over 65 and become infected, there is a 6-10% likelihood of death. If you are sick enough to go on a ventilator, those numbers increase to 83%.
Fortunately, the disaster I predicted in early spring didn’t develop in LBK. But this is not the time to be complacent.
Blake Fleetwood was a reporter for The New York Times and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The New York Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Huffpost, and the Washington Monthly on a number of issues.
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