The ever-evolving threat posed by coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) has forced schools across Florida to shut down, blocked visitors from nursing homes, caused wide-ranging travel and event cancellations, and stripped grocery aisles — especially of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Locally, parents of students in the Pasco and Hillsborough county school districts are bracing to prepare for an extended state-ordered spring break.
The Diocese of St. Petersburg also closed schools and early childhood centers through March 20. The diocese already had scheduled March 16 and March 17 as days off for students. Virtual learning will be conducted March 16 through March 20, according to a Diocese news release.
The additional school closures have left thousands of families scrambling to arrange child care, although the impact may be lessened to some degree as many companies are asking workers to work at home, if possible.
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a pandemic; President Donald Trump has declared a national state of emergency. Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state emergency, and Hillsborough and Pasco counties have declared local states of emergency.
As of the morning of March 16, there had been four deaths reported in Florida linked to COVID-19, according to the Florida Health Department, which is the lead agency responding to the threat.
The health department also reported 684 negative test results and 514 pending tests. Also, there were 442 people being monitored for the virus and 1,573 had been monitored.
Health officials are trying to limit the spread of the virus — to avoid overloading hospitals — by urging people to avoid large crowds and wash their hands frequently.
The virus can spread person to person, through small droplets from the nose or mouth, including when a person coughs or sneezes. The droplets may land on objects and surfaces.
Other people may contract COVID-19 by touching these objects or surface, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath — and may appear as early as two days or as many as 14 days after exposure.
Most people recover from COVID-19 without requiring special treatment, but people with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk.
Impacts from the virus are being felt from Wall Street to Main Street. The stock market has plunged repeatedly, and local businesses are losing revenues because of the uncertainty created by the pandemic.
Huge events have been cancelled or postponed.
On the local front, cancellations include:
- The Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce’s Land O’ Lakes Music Festival, March 21
- Dog Days in Dade City, March 21
- The North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce/Pasco-Hernando State College Distinguished Women’s Leadership Breakfast, March 24
- The fourth annual Family Friendly Summer Camp Expo (Pasco/New Tampa), March 28
- The Taste of North Tampa Bay, March 29
- The North Tampa Bay Chamber monthly membership breakfast, April 7
- The North Tampa Bay Chamber membership luncheon, April 8
- All SCORE chapters across the country have suspended in-person events, including mentoring sessions and workshops, until further notice.
Attractions also have temporarily ceased operations, including Disney World and a number of regional venues. They include:
- ZooTampa, through March 29.
- Tampa Museum of Art, through March 29
- The Glazer Children’s Museum, through March 29
- Henry B. Plant Museum, through March 29
- The Florida Aquarium, through March 29
- The Museum of Science and Industry, through March 29
- Tampa Theatre, through March 31
The Knights of Columbus, at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, in Land O’ Lakes, have cancelled until further notice, their meetings, their Lenten Fish Frys, their doughnuts on Sunday and soccer, both games and concessions.
The Savage Race, which was set for March 14 and March 15, at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, was postponed.
And, a Spring Market Day, planned for March 21 at the Old Lutz School, was cancelled because vendors were concerned about setting up, because of the threat of COVID-19.
Both the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce and North Tampa Chamber have announced they would be holding off on varied activities, pending future decisions, in light of the evolving nature of the coronavirus threat.
Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning has been keeping parents and staff informed about the district’s response to the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 threat through a series of videos posted on the district’s website.
“I know that everyone remains concerned about the possibility of an outbreak,” Browning said, and the district is taking steps to attempt to limit the spread.
It also has conducted a brief phone survey to evaluate its capacity to provide distance learning, the superintendent said, noting the district needs to be prepared.
The district also has announced a plan to provide meals to students at seven designated sites, beginning on March 23. The food will be offered on a drive-thru basis at specific sites. The pre-packaged meals are for children under 18 years old and will include lunch as well as breakfast for the next day. Information about the program can be obtained by going to the school district’s website, Pasco.k12.fl.us, and click on the coronavirus information link.
Impacts also are being felt by colleges.
Schools within the state’s university system were instructed to make plans to transition to remote instruction as soon as possible.
Saint Leo University suspended classes for its university campus students, in St. Leo, from March 16 to March 20, to allow its faculty to prepare to deliver all classes online beginning March 23, according to a university news release.
All residential students are being asked to return to their permanent residence following spring break, rather than returning to campus and to remain at home during this period of online instruction.
The university also has suspended all fall and winter sports, indefinitely. And, is canceling all large, group events.
The virus is affecting churches, too.
Concerns about potential spread of the virus also prompted the Diocese of St. Petersburg to take these steps, effective March 12, until further notice:
- End the distribution of communal wine from a common cup
- Remove Holy Water fonts, including the baptismal font
- Avoid physical contact, including during the Sign of Peace
Bishop Gregory Parkes also granted dispensation from Sunday Mass in the Saint Petersburg Diocese through the end of March, to those wishing to avoid large gatherings.
Prevent the spread
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily.
Source: Florida Department of Health
For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit:
Published March 18, 2020