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“I achievement you never accept to lose a apron and be clumsy to blow them, be in their room, or say goodbye to them,” she wrote, a abbreviate time afterwards alteration her Facebook awning photo to a account of her stepfather kissing her on her bells day. “I achievement you never accept to lose your ancestor and be clumsy to hug your mom and be consoled because you accept to break 6 anxiety away.”

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Before New York hospitals were abounding with coronavirus cases and Florida topped 3,000 cases, this day-tripper anchorage abreast the Gulf of Mexico was the aboriginal burghal on the Eastern Seaboard to address a afterlife from the virus, a woman who had catholic across and died on March 5. Hannaford’s stepfather, John Gness, was the virus’s additional victim here, accedence to a baleful aggregate of covid-19 and the abiding adverse pulmonary ache he had battled for the final years of his life.

The pandemic-related deaths jolted a arena that boasts low crime, paradise-like acclimate and 50 afar of white-sand beaches — a year-round vacation destination that burghal leaders accept can feel allowed to the problems that affliction added places.

Now, weeks into the crisis, Fort Myers sits at the affecting antecedent of a growing — and added politicized — borough agitation over what to do next.

Many in this bourgeois association appetite to accede with Trump’s appearance that portions of the country should reopen anon to advice animate the abridgement — a attitude the admiral adapted Sunday aback he appear federal amusing break guidelines would abide in aftereffect until the end of April. Afterwards all, best bounded leaders actuality are Republicans and borough activity revolves abundantly about the business community. Gov. Ron DeSantis has said counties that haven’t been adamantine hit by the coronavirus shouldn’t be affected to booty emergency measures.

Yet, bounded leaders here, amid the aboriginal in the country to anon acquaintance the appulse of the virus, accept been inching adjoin the adverse access — shutting the beaches, auspicious locals to abide at home, and, now, because added acrimonious lockdown orders. Today, there are dozens of bodies adulterated in a canton breadth about 30 percent of association are allotment of the over-65 citizenry accessible to the affliction furnishings of the coronavirus.

“If I’m a doctor in the hospital, I accept one priority, the bloom of my patients — and of the doctors and agents members,” said Roger Desjarlais, the Lee canton administrator who has been accustomed emergency admiral during the outbreak. “If you’re a association leader, it’s appealing complex. Alike admitting no one in this association is authoritative a actual loud altercation about bread-and-butter recovery, aback this is over, they are actually activity to. And whatever accommodation we accomplish today we will accept to accord with in the abutting six months.”

It has not been a confrontation-free acclimation act. Aboriginal on, bounce breakers abandoned coronavirus warnings and arranged the area’s beaches — until the canton bankrupt them and blocked parking lot entrances with metal barricades. A bank breadth Gness gambled afore he died fought to break open, admitting worries about the accessible bloom blackmail there. Alike proponents of stiffer behavior to assure accessible bloom apprehend the accident it will do to the area’s lifeblood.

“I’m acute that bodies are actually struggling,” said accompaniment Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, a Republican who represents the breadth that includes Fort Myers and who lobbied for the bank to be closed. “There’s still a able accidental on both sides. There’s a actual able accumulation advocating for added of a shelter-in-place policy. And there are groups like the Alcove in Florida that are advocating to accumulate businesses open. All these bodies get dug in their positions.”

‘A adaptation business model’

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The bank arguments started anon afterwards Gness’s death. Authorities who retraced his accomplish abstruse he had gambled at the Seminole Bank in adjacent Immokalee. Outraged association accepted the bank abutting its doors, afraid that gamblers affairs on aperture machines and swapping dice could accidentally advance the coronavirus.

For a while, the bank fabricated arguments adjoin closing, adage none of the advisers who interacted with Gness had collapsed ill — and that they were consistently disinfecting equipment.

The bank has aback closed, but the agitation over business animation vs. accessible bloom has connected to rage, decidedly in Fort Myers, breadth the visitors agency estimates the tourism industry employs 1 in 5 workers and contributes $3 billion to the bounded economy.

A ample block of that comes in March, aback adolescent bounce breakers, earlier snowbirds from the arctic and families with accouchement in tow assemble on the breadth — giving bars, restaurants and added businesses that baby to vacationers a Black Friday-like boost.

Jay Johnson’s restaurant, Bubba’s Roadhouse and Saloon in Cape Coral, is usually arranged at this time of year. On a contempo Thursday, there were four cars in his parking lot; all belonged to employees. In the anniversary aback the canton allowable Bubba’s and every added bistro enactment about-face to takeout and commitment only, sales were bottomward 80 percent. Johnson can’t buck to attending at his accounting spreadsheet for long. He understands that amusing abreast can abbreviate the advance of the coronavirus, but wonders how abundant added his business can take.

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“We’ve survived hurricanes, we bashed through them. We had the BP oil spill, and we bashed through it. But this is a tougher affair because there’s no end date,” he said. “I don’t apperceive if this is a acceptable business model. This is a adaptation business model.”

‘What’s a animal activity worth?’

In one sense, decisions about movement brake appear bottomward to simple, barbarous math. Lee Health, the hospital arrangement that serves best of the canton and has been clay the crisis for policymakers, estimates that 35 to 40 percent of the association was abandoned aftermost week. To abstain cutting hospitals, according to Therese Everly, the carnality armchair of Lee Health’s board, the burghal needs to be 60 percent isolated. To arch the gap will apparently booty a desperate footfall Fort Myers breadth leaders accept been steadily affective toward: government-enforced amusing isolation.

Although burghal and canton leaders insisted that they were not aggravating to inject accessory backroom into a crisis of this magnitude, the aforementioned fissures that abide accustomed activity nibbled about the edges of the community’s arguments: claimed albatross to break home against a government mandate, and arguments about how abundant the able should cede to aegis the best vulnerable.

In Lee County, 42 percent of registered voters are Republican. The ambassador is Republican, and active for a aldermanic seat. The Florida House majority leader, who is a Republican from Fort Myers, is additionally gluttonous a aldermanic seat. In interviews, abounding political and borough leaders fatigued that anybody was alive adamantine to accumulate partisanship out of the agitation — but additionally brindled in acclaim for the Republican admiral and Florida’s Republican governor.

“I anticipate Admiral Trump had a abundant point aback he said we don’t appetite the cure to be worse than the virus,” said Bryan Blackwell, the armchair of the greater Fort Myers alcove of commerce, who is additionally a Republican gluttonous a bench in the Florida House. “I anticipate it’s important that we booty abstinent accomplish to accomplish abiding that we’re not overreacting and that we’re not affliction bodies added than we actually accept to.”

Desjarlais, the canton manager, said admitting their efforts, it’s absurd to accept a absolutely apolitical action aback decision-makers are afflicted by the bodies who adopted them.

“On one side, the choir are adage what’s amiss with you guys are you not advantageous attention. What’s a animal activity worth? Extenuative activity is added important than extenuative a business. You charge be corrupt,” he said. “There are added bodies that altercate . . . they accept all these advisers and accept to accomplish payrolls.”

Encouraged to break home

The accommodation breadth leaders acclimatized on has been to acerb animate bodies to break home — but not to authorization it with the blackmail of fines and the force of law.

Opponents of a calm adjustment point to signs that bodies are demography claimed responsibility: Traffic counts are bottomward 80 percent, accessible alteration ridership has alone 45 percent, bodies are, for the best part, abject the aglow orange signs that say the beaches are closed.

“I’m not so abiding that arising an adjustment to the accessible that about becomes law is either fair or all-important at this point,” Desjarlais said.

Opponents of a binding adjustment point to business owners like Ruth Ann Yeoman, who has endemic Blake’s Beautician Styling on the city’s capital annoyance for the aftermost 40 years. Her business is affliction aloof like all the others, but she said she feels an obligation to aegis the public, alike if there’s no binding order.

A assurance on the aperture tells audience to alarm their barber, and a chat ensues about how the chump has been feeling. If they’re symptom-free, the barbers ask if they’re accommodating to abrasion a mask.

“We’re absolutely not actuality careless, and we’re not absolutely shut down. So we are able to serve and accommodate a little bit of allotment for ourselves. It’s not a lot, maybe aloof abundant to pay for the gas there and back, but it’s something.”

Still with every expense, she and her bedmate ability added into their retirement backup egg, which is already invested in a banal bazaar that has been aching by the coronavirus crisis. The compromise, she says, is befitting them safe and their business afloat.

“We’re actuality a little picky,” she said. “I don’t appetite to either accord it to one of my clients, nor accept it from one of my clients.”

But alfresco the doors of her shop, anybody wasn’t acknowledgment the bendable admonition to artlessly break home. A accumulation of skateboarders formed up the about abandoned street, anesthetized by a brace out for a jog and a accumulation of motorcyclists affairs up to a restaurant. A few blocks away, a accumulation of adolescent adults played a night bold of volleyball in a ablaze park.

Area leaders abide to nudge them to go home. On Friday, Lee Canton pinged breadth cellphones with a accessible alert, auspicious — but not mandating — that bodies absorb the weekend at home. A day later, a agnate active went out, acquainted that the Florida surgeon accepted recommended bodies over 65 break central and isolated.

They hoped that a board meeting, aimed for aboriginal this week, would accompany added accuracy or consensus, alike as the cardinal of infections increases.

“That cardinal is rising,” Ambassador Randall Henderson told The Washington Post on Thursday, aback there were 52 coronavirus cases.

“Hopefully as the canicule go on, we’re activity to see that cardinal stabilize. If we get out of this with no added deaths, I anticipate we’ll calculation our advantageous stars.”

But that luck would not aftermost alike the blow of the day.

That night, the bloom administration appear that addition being in the canton had died of covid-19.

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