Toni and Jack Swoboda, of Land O’ Lakes, decided against a small-gathering baby shower for their son, Cody, and his wife, Brittany, of New Tampa, due to the spike in COVID-19 numbers after the holidays. Instead, the celebration was arranged, complete with decorations and party favors, on the Swoboda’s front lawn, for family and friends that wanted to ‘drive by’ to chat with the couple, if only for a short time. Cody and Brittany stand behind the celebratory yard sign to welcome well-wishers.
Florida State Sen. Danny Burgess undoubtedly has a full plate of responsibilities as he settles into his new legislative role representing District 20, which spans parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.
Most notable for the 34-year-old Republican from Zephyrhills is tackling existing and lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic. He is chairman of the newly created Select Committee on Pandemic Response and Preparedness — a role appointed by Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
The first-term Senate member discussed COVID-19 response and other topics as the featured guest speaker at The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce’s Jan. 7 breakfast meeting at Golden Corral in Zephyrhills.
Burgess didn’t mince words regarding the magnitude of short- and long-term issues that need to be tackled by the 10-member pandemic committee.
“It’s a big responsibility ahead of us,” Burgess told the room of local business leaders. “We’re still learning as we go. We’re building this plane as we’re flying…because this is a new world we’re in and this (virus) has never existed before.”
The committee, Burgess said, will examine “every area that’s been impacted,” particularly in the way of business issues related to the coronavirus, including restaurants, retail, entertainment establishments and so on.
One such example is introducing liability protections if someone claims they contracted COVID-19 at a particular locale, he said.
Burgess explained: “As you’re opening up (businesses) again, you don’t need to be looking over your shoulder wondering if you’re going to get sued because this person said they got COVID at your place or your hand sanitizer machine was empty, right? That’s the kind of stuff that we’re looking at there.”
He continued with pro-business sentiments, adding “there should be a presumption that businesses should be open” through the pandemic going forward.
“You should be able to operate in an environment and not be told to shut down,” said Burgess, an attorney partnered in a full-service practice in Dade City.
“As long we we’re taking the appropriate (health and safety) steps and doing what you need to do as a business, you should not have to shut your doors because there are devastating impacts that could be just as bad as the virus, if you think about it.
“We have to make sure that people can earn a living, that people can stay on their feet and make a wage and not cripple our economy, and so there’s gotta be that balance.”
Aside from business impacts, surging mental health problems amid the pandemic will be a heavy focus for Burgess and other Senate leaders, too.
The lawmaker pointed out regional mental health crisis intervention calls “are up like 200% routinely” in parts of the state, and suicide rates already “are really high, but that’s going up, too.
“I think all of us are extremely worried about the second- and third-order effects of the pandemic,” Burgess said. “I believe there’s things that are coming down the road that we haven’t fully realized yet, and a lot of it has to do in the world of mental health, some of the economic fallout that we’ve seen from people who don’t have a job anymore or lost their business, maybe lost their home, so I’m really concerned about homelessness, and I’m really concerned about mental health.”
Youth educational disruptions because of COVID-19 figures to be another boiling point for the committee, Burgess said.
“There’s going to be a lot of kids left behind potentially because of what we had to do with barriers of being able to go to school,” said Burgess, who also noted COVID-19 school closures have inhibited the reporting of child abuse and neglect cases.
Burgess said the state legislature also will be navigating tough 2021 budget sessions because of unforeseen cuts and shortfalls from the pandemic. Despite that, he said, “we have to continue to push for our priorities and things that are important to us, and just work within the means, right?”
COVID-19 vaccine clinic in East Pasco
Furthering on the COVID-19 topic, Burgess said he’s been in communication with the Florida Department of Health to secure at least one vaccine clinic at an East Pasco location.
Since Burgess’ talk, a drive-thru vaccination site has been set up at Saint Leo University.
There also is a drive-thru vaccination clinic in Pasco, and it’s on the west side — at Sears in the Gulfview Square Mall, at 9409 U.S. 19, Port Richey.
Meantime, the senator said he and other state leaders are pushing for legislation to eventually make COVID-19 vaccines available at pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, similar to how the flu vaccine is administered by a trained pharmacist at those respective locations.
Zephyrhills resilient through pandemic
Elsewhere, Burgess commended his hometown and surrounding areas for their resilience during the pandemic.
“I think the thing that always stands out to me about Zephyrhills and the East Pasco community is how much you support the community, and you would think in a time like this we’re all facing very financial constraining challenges you wouldn’t be able to do that as much, but it’s really incredible to see, despite the inward challenges that we’re facing that we didn’t stop supporting the greater community as a whole.”
Burgess made a point to praise growth and development of the city’s downtown main street corridor, and the varied activities and experiences the area now offers.
Those new attractions are drawing day-trippers from surrounding areas, such as Plant City and Tampa, he said.
He also tipped his hat to businesses popping up along Fifth Avenue, such as the microbrewery, axe throwing, billiards hall, a board game café, vintage crafts and furniture store, to name a few.
And all of this happening, despite the pandemic.
“I mean, I grew up downtown. I’ve been getting Slurpee’s at the 7-Eleven my whole life and it’s never been like this,” Burgess said. “It’s got like a life now, so this is becoming a little bit of a unique destination, so we need to capitalize on this.”
Published January 20, 2021
Lulu is a charcoal Shih-Poo, with a knack for making friends. If you meet Lulu and you rub her belly, she will remember you forever. She also is a bit of a tracker when she puts her head to the ground to seek out family and friends. It’s impossible to hide from Lulu! Besides traveling well, Lulu is a very loving and personable companion. She’s always ready to play and to make herself at home anywhere. Lulu resides with her mom and dad, Tim and Rita Koral, in Wesley Chapel.
Betsy Crisp, of Land O’ Lakes, said she usually sees pileated woodpeckers on the dead trees around Treasure Lake when she walks her dogs. But this time, her home security camera doubled as a wildlife camera and she spied a red-bellied woodpecker in the backyard. These woodpeckers usually can be found in woodlands, but often venture from the forest to appear at backyard feeders.
BayCare is utilizing Aiva technology in 2,500 hospital rooms across 14 Tampa Bay area hospitals, according to a news release.
Patients will experience smart rooms that allow them to connect with their care team and control devices, like the TV – all hands-free.
The technology is being deployed at St. Joseph’s Hospital-North in Lutz before being implemented system-wide by BayCare into other hospitals. BayCare hopes to have the technology in place across its entire system by the end of 2021.
BayCare uses a health care-specific platform known as Aiva to handle patient requests. These requests are immediately sent to the correct support person based on what a patient tells Aiva via an Alexa device installed in their room.
The care team member receives the request on their BayCare iPhone specifically deployed for communications.
The technology was piloted at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa and Winter Haven Hospital in 2019, before being put to use at St. Joseph’s Hospital-North late last year.
Patients were highly satisfied with the Aiva technology in surveys during the pilot, said Craig Anderson, BayCare director of innovation, in the release.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers this information on “What to Expect after Getting a Covid-19 Vaccine,” on its website, CDC.gov/coronavirus.
Common side effects are: On the arm — pain, swelling; throughout the body — fever, chills, tiredness, headache.
These side effects may affect the person’s ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.
If you have pain or discomfort, talk to a doctor about taking over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
To reduce pain or discomfort in the arm, apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area, and use or exercise the arm. To reduce discomfort from a fever, drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly.
Contact your doctor or health care provider if the redness or tenderness increases after 24 hours, or if the side effects are worrisome or do not seem to be going away after a few days.
If you think you might be having a severe allergic reaction after leaving the vaccination site, seek immediate medical care by calling 911.
For information about the second Covid-19 shot, visit CDC.gov/coronavirus.
The Pasco County Library Cooperative will offer a “Hypnosis for Positive Change” seminar on Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m., for ages 18 and older. The guest speaker will be certified hypnotherapist Dianne Orcher, who will discuss the benefits of hypnotherapy. Registration is required. Contact Amaris Papadopoulos at 727-861-3020 or am.
Victory High School, a recovery high school that provides mental health resources and recovery support in addition to academics, will host a Shoe Drive Fundraiser on Jan. 30 at Calvary Chapel Worship Center, 6825 Trouble Creek Road in New Port Richey.
Donations of new or gently used shoes can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
For information, visit VictoryHighSchool.net.
Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) will host a virtual “Linking in Faith and Education (LIFE), Spirit, and Wellness Support and Resource Summit: Equity and Advancement of Minority Males in America” on Feb. 1 from 10 a.m. to noon.
The summit will bring together individuals, behavioral health communities, career resources and congregations to discuss social justice and equality issues as they relate to Black and brown underrepresented populations.
There will be a panel discussion on equity and advancement of minority males in America, followed by breakout sessions on leadership/mentoring; politics, policing and civic responsibility; life skills; and, mental health and spirituality.
The event will be presented by PHSC LIFE and Success Academy, and cohosted by Eastern Florida State College and the Florida African American Student Association.
The first 200 registrants will receive a free lunch from Grubhub, sponsored by Humana Bold Goal.
To register, visit PHSC.edu/about/events.
Early release days
During the second semester, Pasco County Schools will implement a two-hour early release day every month, each day falling on a Wednesday. There will be no early release day in May.
The early release days, which were implemented for the first time last school year, provide teachers with an opportunity to complete professional development and experience training that will help increase effective instruction and ultimately will benefit students.
Students who are registered in the district’s PLACE program will be able to stay the extra two hours with no additional charges. School buses will operate two hours earlier during early release days. The routes and bus stops will not change.
Upcoming early release days are Feb. 3, March 3 and April 7.
The bell times, including the early release times for each school, can be found at Pasco.k12.fl.us/site/pcs_bell_schedule, or on the Pasco County Schools’ Facebook page.
Saint Leo University’s Tapia College of Business will present “Re-Imagine Your Future Under Subchapter V: A Chapter 11 Survival Tool for Small Businesses” on Feb. 3 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The free webinar will explore Subchapter V as an option for small businesses severely affected by the current pandemic.
Dave Jennis, a bankruptcy attorney, will discuss key considerations for bankruptcy and lead participants through the process, from filing to when companies emerge from bankruptcy.
Small business owners and the general public can attend the webinar.
The registration link can be found at SaintLeo.edu/business-events under the Webinars-Surviving the Pandemic category.
- Michelle Graham, of Lutz: President’s List at Mercer University – School of Engineering in Macon, Georgia
- Emily Leonard, of Wesley Chapel: President’s List at Mercer University – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in Macon, Georgia
- Dylan Schaffer, of Lutz: fall Dean’s List at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri
- Brett Allen Taylor, of Land O’ Lakes: Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Care from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas
- Jonathan Young, of Wesley Chapel: President’s List at Mercer University, Stetson-Hatcher School of Business, in Macon, Georgia
The Pasco County Schools graduation rate continues to improve, rising to 89.9% in 2020, a 1.6% improvement over the previous year.
Pasco’s graduation rate has improved nearly 14 percentage points since 2013.
“Year after year, we are seeing steady progress,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. “I’m so proud of our students for their hard work. All our teachers from kindergarten through high school can share the credit because it takes a team effort to prepare students for college, career, and life.”
Cypress Creek High School led the way among Pasco high schools with a 99.5% graduation rate, up 3.5 percentage points.
For more information on Pasco’s school graduation rates, visit Pasco County Schools on Facebook.
Student aid programs
The federal government offers various financial aid programs to help students and families pay for college.
Applying for the programs requires submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
These summaries listed, from the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), describe the more common federal grant and loan programs. Grants generally do not have to be repaid, but loans do.
- Federal Pell Grant: Pell Grants provide up to $6,345 per year for undergraduates with financial need. That amount is expected to increase for the 2021-2022 school year.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: These grants provide up to $4,000 per year for undergraduate students who have exceptional financial need.
- Direct Loans: These loans are available to undergraduate, graduate and professional students. The amount students are eligible to borrow depends on their year in school.
- Federal PLUS Loans: Parents of dependent undergraduate students may qualify for PLUS Loans, contingent upon the parents’ credit ratings. The amount available depends on how much other financial aid the student receives. Graduate and professional students may apply for PLUS if they have exhausted their Direct Loan eligibility.
The KHEAA is a public, nonprofit agency that helps to improve students’ access to college. It provides financial aid and financial literacy information, at no cost to students and parents.
The agency also helps colleges manage their student loan default rates and verify information submitted on the FAFSA.
For more information, visit KHEAA.com.
The North American Big Top Circus will take place Jan. 29 to Jan. 31 at the Grove at Wesley Chapel. There will be clowns, acrobats, live music, motorcycle daredevils, Nerf Wars and more. Also, Ringmaster Justin Loomis will bring performances by jugglers, high-flying trapeze and rope acts, and balancing feats. The event also will include food trucks, craft vendors and local businesses. One child gets in free with an adult ticket purchase ($25). Each additional child is $8. For information, call 813-994-9255.
The Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative will host “One Book, One Night” on Jan. 29 at 6:30 p.m., for teens and adults. Participants can start online as the beginning excerpt of the book “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, is read in English, Spanish and French. For information and to register, visit the calendar feature at HCPLC.org.