What Has the Pandemic Taught Naples?

by Jeff Lytle

W hat has our community learned from the pandemic? I put that question to a cross-section of community leaders who made time in their busy schedules to respond.

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk

Although we have not dealt with a pandemic in our lifetimes, we have learned that being prepared, as well as having a great plan and emergency response trained professionals, has been as successful as it is in other emergencies such as hurricanes and wildfires. Since January we have been working to prepare for, prevent and address COVID-19.

Our many community partnerships and the dedication of our deputies have been key to that effort.

Kamela Patton, Collier County Public Schools Superintendent

CCPS learned our students, staff and parents are resilient and adept at adjusting to a new education model in an extremely short time. Collier was one of four Florida counties, out of 67, to lead the way in virtual learning following campus closures. More than 45,000 CCPS students engaged in a flexible, online learning format for the last nine weeks of the school year.

The pandemic reinforced our firm belief in the value of community partnerships. Whether working with food banks to complement our massive meal distribution or hearing valuable guidance from the Department of Health-Collier, our families benefited from CCPS nurturing deep community roots long before the pandemic.

Paul Hiltz, CEO of NCH Healthcare System

This pandemic has been a shining example of the human spirit. The way the compassionate Naples community has come together to support each other has been nothing short of amazing. I was proud to witness first-hand how this community rallied behind our frontline workers and our staff by donating meals, masks and other resources, and even generous monetary contributions.

Prior to joining this incredible healthcare organization, I had heard about the powerful Naples community, but this has inspired me. Now more than ever, NCH Healthcare System is honored to serve our community with quality patient care.

Dr. Paul Jones, Immediate Past President of NCH Medical Staff

I think the medical community has learned how under-prepared we were for a pandemic. Initially, the guidance from the CDC and the federal government was lacking and, at times, misleading. Much of the responsibility fell to county health departments and these were terribly underfunded and didn ot have the capacity to offer significant advice, testing, contact tracing or suggestions for treatment.

On the bright side, I was very impressed with the rapidity of the response from our community health systems and the willingness of our providers to help.

We need to be better prepared at all levels for the next time, as there will be a next time.

Eileen Connolly-Keesler, CEO, Community Foundation of Collier County

When COVID-19 started, as our area’s philanthropic first responder we immediately opened a fund. But this pandemic is different from a hurricane that affects one area. We worried our donors might not be able to respond, as the crisis is worldwide. They responded to the tune of $1.5 million, proving their commitment to our community — no matter what.

As always, our nonprofits jumped into action providing boots-on-the-ground services to those in need despite health concerns of operating.

We also learned that not only can we operate remotely, but our team is persevering enough todo it well!

Michael Dalby, President/CEO, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce

While we have shown we are resilient and can carry forward, we’ve also observed, once again, how important it is to strive to diversify our economy. We need jobs beyond tourism and hospitality. We need more high-wage, high-skill jobs in emerging technologies supporting financial, legal, aerospace, health care and transportation industries. We need to offer a welcoming home to remote workers and remoted headquarters. We need to continue to support our legacy industries, and we need to take steps
to welcome sectors of our evolving 21st century economy.


Tony Ridgway, Longtime Restaurateur

If your community accepts the pandemic as real, you’ve learned to live with masks, self-quarantining, social distancing and standards of sanitization never before witnessed. If your community is one that has been ravaged by Covid-19, your fear levels have increased and hopefully the response to the pandemic has equally increased to help mitigate the issues. In each of those communities you’ve found new friends and caregivers who truly do have your backs.

Hopefully the entire community has learned to more fully appreciate the commitment to excellence and care of our healthcare workers and we have attained new levels of appreciation for our health and welfare.

Mike Reagen, retired CEO, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, and wife, Susan

While masked and walking around our neighborhood, we saw children and other people, and landscaping, that we had not previously noticed; We learned the pleasure of doing crossword puzzles from newspapers … and almost finishing them (and only cheating a little);

We used online genealogy searches of our ancestors for ideas for digital books we hope to publish for family; And we learned the whereabouts of dozens of high school classmates — after 57 years!

Brent Batten, Naples Daily News Columnist

What have we learned? Not much, I sometimes think, as I see people in stores not wearing masks.

It’s not a political statement. It’s just a preventative step. What I think we’ve learned that should pay off for our region in the long-term is the degree to which the components of our healthcare system can collaborate and cooperate. Surely, once this has passed, those new networks and relationships simply won’t go away.

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