Beaches closed, Inn closed: Clinic warns, don’t ‘stick your head in the sand,’ COVID-19 could be here

March 20, 2020
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Effective Thursday, March 19 all Lee County and Gasparilla Island beaches are closed due to concerns regarding COVID-19. This went into stringent effect at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 19.
An emergency meeting of all mayors of Lee County municipalities and cities, Lee County Commissioner
Brian Hamman, Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto and local representa-
tives were among those in a meeting Thursday morning.
It was determined that very stringent measures will be taken to make sure no one is on our beaches. This
includes pedestrian traffic as well. Signs were placed on the Boca Grande causeway to announce that to
people before they crossed the bridge.
State park beaches will more than likely follow suit in the near future. Right now, those parks are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
The Gasparilla Inn & Club announced on Wednesday that they will not be taking any new reservations
after Saturday, March 21. Current guests will stay for the remainder of their reservation. Other amenities at
the historic inn are closed or limited (see our “Closures, Cancellations and Postponements” story or check Ballyhoo in the hard copy of our paper for more).
Many local restaurants are doing take out only but some, such as South Beach, Scarpa’s Coastal and The Temp are open with limited seating capacity.
The bottom line is this: If you don’t believe that COVID-19 is on the island, the Boca Grande Health Clinic
has summed it up very succinctly.
“All I can say is get your head out of the sand and pay attention to what’s going on around you,” said Dr. Lauren Hana, the Clinic’s leading authority on this special circumstance. “Follow the recommendations. In my opinion, if you’re sick, you have it until proven otherwise and social responsibility to others dictates that you act appropriately. It should be automatic. There have most certainly been MANY possible exposures here. Boca Grande is a hot spot for travelers, particularly international.”
Case in point is Father Stephen Planning. On Monday an NBC affiliate in Washington D.C. publishedan article about Planning, who is the president of Gonzaga College High School in Northwest Washington, D.C. Planning is in self-quarantine after testing positive for the COVID-19. The story says that anyone who came into contact with Planning since March 1 should “contact their healthcare provider and follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the D.C. Department of Health.”
The article also lists in detail Planning’s itinerary, which includes stops all along Florida’s west coast from Tampa/St. Pete to Naples and Sanibel. On March 4 Planning is listed as having lunch at The Gasparilla Inn &
Club (Beach Club) and showed a stop at Coffee & Friends, a local eatery that used to be the Egg and I on Placida Road in Englewood.
It has been confirmed that Planning did, in fact, have lunch at the Beach Club that day, but he and his dining
companion ate outdoors. His dining companion self-quarantined, and is feeling fine at the moment.
After leaving the west coast of Florida, Planning went on a tour of the state’s east coast. There is a good
chance he might have picked up the virus there, as the number of cases on that side of the state are exploding
right now.
Planning experienced a low-grade fever on Friday afternoon, March 13, two weeks after his Florida visit. He
went to a hospital in Washington D.C. and tested positive for COVID-19.
Speculation was already beginning on the island after EMS crews donned Personal Protection Equip-
ment (hazmat suits) to take a man staying at one of the Inn cottages to a local hospital on Thursday, March
12. The patient was experiencing flu-like symptoms, and was transported to a local hospital.
According to Boca Grande Fire Chief C.W. Blosser, that will be standard protocol in many cases.
“We have to protect our guys from getting sick,” Blosser said. “We can’t tell what type of sickness a person has when we’re at the scene, and we can’t afford to get our people sick. Sometimes we might wear masks, sometimes we might wear the suits. You might be seeing more and more of it. If our guys get sick or quarantined, it’s going to be very hard to find a replacement for them.”
This week Inn authorities sanctioned a decontamination of The Inn dormitories, fitness room and other areas as a safety precaution, said Gasparilla Inn General Manager Jon Reecher. This meant there were more people in hazmat suits in the area.
“We are just being safe,” Reecher said. “Employees are exposed to people all day long and I want them to
be safe.”
Right now, no COVID-19 cases are reported to be on the island. Dr. Hana at the Clinic said they are providing accurate and honest information as it becomes available to them, and they are trying to find every avenue to disseminate all important information to the community.
“The Clinic website,, now has a Local COVID 19 update section that I will be updating daily withany news,” she said. “As the website says, ‘There is no known positive case of COVID 19 on our Island.’ I have written about recommendations being made on the federal level in the Beacon each week. A statement
was sent out last weekend from me regarding recommendations specific to our community.”
Our website,, now has an orange alert bar across the top that has a link to the Boca
Grande Health Clinic, and links to all COVID-19 stories or related topics on which we have reported.