Health Clinic says, ‘Don’t bury your head in the sand’: Inn has an interesting week in light of COVID-19 concern

March 17, 2020
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – If you don’t believe that COVID-19 is on the island, you should think again. That is the message the Boca Grande Health Clinic is putting out to everyone on Gasparilla Island right now, and if you need proof of that keep reading.
“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. published an 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.
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. He is in quarantine at his home there.
It’s been an interesting week for The Inn. On Thursday of last week, March 12 at around noon the Boca Grande Fire Department responded to a call of a man from Washington D.C. with flu-like symptoms at one of the Inn cottages. The Boca Grande Fire Department responded, dressed in Personal Protection Equipment (hazmat suits) and apparently drew quite a crowd.
The gentleman was transported to a hospital where he tested positive for the flu. Due to HIPAA laws we do not have confirmation if he was tested for COVID-19 and, if so, if he was positive. Then, on Monday of this week, Inn authorities sanctioned a decontamination of The Inn dormitories as a safety precaution, said Gasparilla Inn General Manager Jon Reecher, so there were more people in hazmat suits. He said they were also going to do the fitness room this week.
“We are just being safe,” Reecher said. “Employees are exposed to people all day long and I want them to be safe. If someone is sick, I don’t know it.”
More information on The Inn’s restaurant and the bakery schedule (mainly “to go” now) is available on our ongoing list of postponements, cancellations and closures and in Ballyhoo.
Right now, no active 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 with any 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.