'This crisis is real': Marco Island city officials say how coronavirus is changing their lives
The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting people's daily lives all over U.S. and Marco Island is not the exception. From not being able to dine in restaurants to suffering job loss or worse, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc.
Keeping this in mind, top city officials told the Marco Eagle how the virus is impacting them, their families and their jobs.
City Council Vice-chair Jared Grifoni wrote he realized how many little things he had taken for granted.
"My family has always enjoyed taking part in all the wonderful events going on in the community," Grifoni wrote on March 24. "We've really missed being able to attend events like the Marco Seafood festival that was scheduled this past weekend."
"Those annual community events have really become like family traditions we look forward to, so there is definitely an emptiness when they get cancelled."
Grifoni said his kids' sport tournaments and extracurricular activities have also been canceled.
"So in a few days time, almost every structured and scheduled activity in my family's life disappeared," Grifoni wrote. "I really miss coaching and seeing my kid's play soccer with their friends."
"We miss our routine of going out to eat on Marco every Saturday night and taking the kids for ice cream afterwards."
Grifoni said he is very proud of his family's flexibility during the pandemic. Elsa Grifoni, his wife, has been homeschooling their children and the entire family has been working on their vegetable garden.
"We all enjoy the extra time we've been able to spend together," he wrote. "Getting our hands dirty, composting and sprouting seeds in the garden has been another rewarding hobby that keeps us busy with the added benefit of being outdoors and in the sunshine."
Grifoni said he has also been answering questions from Marco residents through email, phone calls and even a daily live Q and A through the push-to-talk app Zello as rules and recommendations to address the pandemic continue to change.
"During Hurricane Irma, [...] one of the lessons learned during the post-storm reality was how important communication of good information is to everyone," he wrote. "The city policies and outreach have improved a great deal since then but I've still wanted to be there personally for our citizens."
Grifoni is also the owner of a couple businesses in the restaurant and food service industry, with one located on Marco Island.
On March 20, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order directing restaurants and other food-service establishments to close dining rooms and use their kitchens solely for takeout and delivery purposes through May 8.
"We had to rearrange our business on the fly, removing chairs and tables, and then removing seating altogether as circumstances and directives were issued," Grifoni wrote. "I have many employees who's financial livelihood is dependent on being able to come in and work and serve customers."
"We have been able to adapt, remaining open for take-out/carry-out, helping citizens have access to prepared foods while saving jobs for our employees."
City Council Chairperson Erik Brechnitz wrote he made some lifestyle changes.
"I was scheduled to fly on a business trip beginning last Friday, lasting for eight days, and naturally I canceled that trip and erred on the side of caution," Brechnitz wrote. "Going out to eat was one of the pleasurable things for me, but both my wife and I are good cooks and we have been able to find ingredients in the stores with which to make our meals."
Brechnitz wrote the investment management business long ago transitioned to remote computing, which made it easier for him to work without having to see his clients in person. During his free time, Brechnitz wrote he is playing tennis while following social distancing guidelines.
Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance, approximately six feet or two meters, from others when possible, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
"We wash our hands carefully before and after our game and use hand sanitizer frequently," he wrote. "So at least I can stay in decent shape."
Brechnitz wrote, like Grifoni, he is also spending time answering questions from Marco residents.
"I would guess just today I have sent out a minimum of 30 email replies to concerned Marco citizens," he wrote.
Councilor Larry Honig said his business has been affected by the pandemic.
"No one needs teenage fashion consulting when the stores are closed, and in-person client meetings are finished for now." Honig wrote. "My business has gone to zero."
Honig wrote what he misses most is interacting with others on the Island.
"I miss being able to talk with my neighbors when I walk the dog, I miss being teased (or worse) by citizens at the grocery store, I miss the pleasure of a great meal at one of our wonderful restaurants, and I miss being able to work out at the gym," he wrote. "These will all come back."
First responders experience the pandemic through a unique lens. Marco Island Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano wrote coronavirus is a new experience unlike natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
"As police officers, we train for threats to our community and learn how to respond, mitigate, and recover," Frazzano wrote. "We take our guidance from the CDC and Department of Health, keep the community informed of these guidelines, and work with our community to take proactive measures to end this as quickly and safely as we can."
For Frazzano, this pandemic means not grabbing a cup of coffee with the fire chief, not having conversations outside of restaurants and missing out on canceled community events. At the same time, it also means so much more.
"It means I cannot go visit my parents who are living two hours away," she wrote.
Frazzano wrote this moment will be short lived and that soon people will be able to get back to do what they enjoy the most.
"Let’s be that great community and heed the recommendations, because the sooner we follow along, the quicker we can enjoy all the freedoms that America has to offer," she wrote.
Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Michael Murphy wrote he misses going out to interact with residents, groups and business owners.
"It is difficult not to do this but I know that it is the right thing to do for the public health," Murphy wrote. "It is important to lead by example in times of crisis."
Murphy wrote his staff prepares constantly for disasters and that they adapt to the mission.
"Our job is to get the city back to normal and the more people pay attention to the experts the quicker we will," he wrote.
Murphy is also spending more quality time with his wife of 45 years.
"It gives us time to talk and to do the to do lists that we never seem to get too," he wrote. "Because of the potential of this virus we also spend time catching up with friends we may not talked to in a while."
Murphy wrote people need to keep their bodies and minds challenged to stay healthy during this difficult time. He recommended using stationary bikes at home and spending more time with family.
"We are now afforded more quality time to share our thoughts with the ones we love and to prioritize what is really important," he wrote.
Murphy said he worries about his wife, daughter and son who all work in health care.
"They are passionate about their jobs and I hope that they have the tools to keep them safe and that they weight the risks when they make decisions to help," he wrote. "They are in the trenches of this war along with thousands of others."
One of Murphy's friend is in critical condition because of the virus.
"I have a very good friend on a ventilator in critical condition," he wrote. "He became infected ironically when he went to a conference to talk about coronavirus and our response."
"This crisis is real."
Murphy urged Marco Islanders to take it seriously and to follow the advice of experts.
"We cannot be lulled into a false sense of security when we look at incomplete data because of the limited supply of collection kits to test people," he wrote. "The successes in this virus have been when they have been able to do mass testing, isolate and retest."
"It is a sad state when we cannot test you or the first responders that potentially became exposed."
Things will get better, according to Murphy.
"We will get thru this if we stay focused and help each other."
Collier County confirmed its first three cases of the novel coronavirus on March 11.
As of March 29, there were 95 confirmed cases in the county and the number of hospitalizations was at 12, according to the state Department of Health's website. There have been no deaths in Collier County from COVID-19.
Here's a breakdown of the latest numbers in Collier County:
- Total number of cases: 95
- Residents: 83
- Non-residents: 12
The agency is reporting the city of the confirmed cases, if known.
- Naples: 79
- Ave Maria: 1
- Marco Island: 2
- City missing: 1
Additional reporting by digital content producers Rachael Thomas and Caryn Shaffer.
Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.