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COVID, Doppler tower among items on busy GPICA agenda

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Sep 16, 2020

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.comAmongst other things on the agenda for the GPICA meeting held Sept. 2, was a presentation given by the Pine Island Covid-19 Task Force, as well as a public hearing by Dan Stovall, regarding a variance request to build a 978 square foot boathouse in Saint James City, updates on the water testing from Tropical Point Beach, the variance to build a 110-foot dual pole Doppler radar tower in Saint James City, and the proposed docks at the Bocilla Island Seaport.

Task Force leader Eric McCrea gave members an update on the role undertaken by the group, saying one of the responsibilities is to provide islanders with good information regarding available resources through the pandemic, which can be found at the Pine Island Pandemic Task Force Facebook page. Another, he said, is to facilitate cooperation between the group and various island organizations. A role added along the way, said McCrea, is the group’s efficacy for residents when it comes to things such as testing for Covid-19.

In addition to outlining some current issues regarding the pandemic, epidemiologist Dr. James Koopman shared his extensive experience in the area of infectious disease with members, such as his work on the eradication of small-pox in the 1970s, his role performing analysis in Beijing during the SARS epidemic, and his position as a University of Michigan Professor for the past 40 years. Due to his highly specific experience, he has been at work on the Covid-19 epidemic since its start. Although he was fully retired, he said he would likely have an important role in the final outcome of the epidemic. He encouraged members to think about moving forward by understanding the nature of the virus, which he admits was at first thought to be similar to the 2003 outbreak of SARS. That disease, he said, had a very high rate of fatality, and almost became unmanageable due to its highly contagious nature. He outlines some of the differences between the current virus, and the 2003 SARS virus, saying now we have early transmission rather than late transmission, and airborne transmission, as opposed to droplet and surface transmission.

He pointed out that roughly 10 percent of Covid-19 cases cause 80 percent of transmission of new cases. He said physiology of the disease is not the only factor, but also the social environment, citing the case in Seattle where one highly infectious person infected many other people. He explained an important characteristic of this virus is that when it escapes immune control it damages very diverse tissue, and that it can cause the immune system itself to become harmful. The determining factor is the immune history of each person who contracts the virus. This, he said, is why older people are a high risk for complications related to Covid-19, since they are likely to have already had a lifetime of fighting previous infections.

Koopman warns that the fall is a season expected to help the virus thrive, explaining that his focus now is in finding a working vaccine, and the understanding of the nature of the virus to escape the immune system and how that can change over time. He emphasized the importance of due diligence in the coming vaccine trials, citing the 1976 swine flu and its cause of Guillain Barre syndrome. He reported 88 different vaccines being worked on currently, and the need to choose among them correctly. Koopman explained the importance of herd immunity to members, saying that there’s no way to get to a point in the population where we can fully reopen the country without several million more deaths, underlining the current distance from that kind of immunity.

One member questioned whether the Task Force would secure vaccination availability for islanders, since the vast majority of the population is over 65, to which McCrea answered affirmatively, saying the Task Force would help, especially those most vulnerable if possible, to get vaccinated as vaccines become available. Koopman reiterated the possibility of potential problems that could arise from the use of vaccines without careful consideration of science when running trials. Another member directed the question of the authority of the Task Force group, to McCrea, who reminded members that the nature of the group is simply help from those in a position to do so.

The next agenda item was Dan Stovall, president of Honc Marine regarding the building of a 978-square-foot boathouse at 3737 San Carlos Blvd. in Saint James City. Stovall described it as a fairly simple concept, as his client has a two-boat-slip dock constructed by Honc approximately a year ago. He explained the county’s code allowing up to a 500-square-foot boathouse per slip. The code, which was written over 30 years ago, does not work well with bigger modern boats, he added. The request is to build one roof to accommodate the two slips rather than having two roofs side by side. One member suggested trying to change the code at the county level rather than the continuous requests for variance on construction of this nature.

GPICA president Scott Wilkinson gave an update on the water tested at Tropical Point Beach, for which members of the association had donated $500. Wilkinson reported that the test shows 243 parts per million of bacteria in the waters, which, he says, is almost four times the level of bacteria considered safe.

Wilkinson updated members regarding the public information meeting held Sept. 1 at Fishers of Men Lutheran Church regarding the request for variance for construction of a 110-foot dual pole Doppler radar tower on Stringfellow Road in Saint James City. Wilkinson explained the reason a variance is needed is because the county only allows for a 90-foot structure. The Pine Island plan only allows 45-foot structures, resulting in a need for two variances granted, he added.

A vote was taken from members, which came back with an overwhelming majority opposed to having the tower built on the island.

Wilkinson gave an update on the reconstruction project underway at Bocilla Island Seaport in Bokeelia, emphasizing that it has nothing to do with Capt’n Con’s. There may be a scheduled public hearing on this in the future but nothing is scheduled for now. Wilkinson said anyone who wishes to comment or be notified on the status of the permit on this project should contact curtis.hardman@floridadep.gov with application number 152558-002 for reference.