ALACHUA COUNTY – A pandemic has gripped the world and its effects are rapidly mounting in America. The COVID-19 virus has gone from a single case in Washington state on Jan.21, 2020 to over 5,981 cases covering all 50 states as of March 17, 2020.
By March 17, 2020, it has killed 99 people, most either elderly or with prior health issues. For many younger people it is not fatal, similar to a bad flu with dry cough, fever, trouble breathing, weakness and some mental disorientation. Many of these, especially lower- and middle-income people have jobs in the service industry or retail, interact with a number of people while needing to work to pay their bills. The problem becomes not only who has it, but who their interactions.
Someone younger going to work and interacting with others can spread the virus quickly. While it may not seem bad enough to miss work to the younger person, it can be deadly to those in the at-risk groups. The same goes for public events such as concerts, movie theaters, restaurants and bars. An infected person can easily spread to others unknowingly. There is usually a 4-14-day incubation period before symptoms show up and health experts have not confirmed when it becomes communicable, but believe it can be spread before symptoms show.
The virus is highly communicable, with the infection rate typically doubling in 2-4 days in most of the 146 countries it is currently in, with the numbers changing constantly. Nations are closing their borders, limiting travel by air, train or bus, mass quarantining of anyone suspected of being in contact with an infected person and closing businesses, putting many people out of work and affecting the world economy. It is currently estimated to cost the global economy $2.7 trillion.
Although slow to realize the scope of the epidemic in America and being unprepared for expanding numbers that needed supplies or hospitalization, the federal government has begun expanding their efforts to contain the epidemic and get supplies and test kits to a much broader audience, working with state governments to get what they need to minimize the virus's spread.
The Federal government and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) health experts have announced a variety of suggested restrictions. They initially said to avoid groups over 250 and practice “social distancing” by keeping six feet away from others. Within days that was revised to groups of 50 and then on March 16 it was further reduced to groups of 10.
These restrictions have resulted in cancellations or postponement of most events. Major sports games or events have been canceled including all NBA games, Kentucky Derby, NASCAR, tennis and soccer tournaments. Any event with more than 10 people is suggested to cancel. Museums, movie and show theaters, libraries and schools have all closed down. Many businesses have also shut their doors and many companies are asking their employees to work from home to avoid spreading the disease.
In Florida, both state and local governments have put restrictions on businesses and events. On March 17, Governor Ron DeSantis ordered all of Florida’s bars and nightclubs closed for 30 days starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, upending St. Patrick’s Day revelries as the state acts more aggressively to contain the COVID-19 virus that has infected more than 171 people in Florida and killed six as of his announcement.
He also said he’s asking Florida’s University Board of Governors to require students to return home for remote learning for the rest of the spring semester. All schools in the state are closed until at least March 27. A decision will be made at that time whether to reopen.
Florida also unveiled a new online dashboard that provides the public with a clearer picture of where the virus has hit. The COVID-19 surveillance dashboard provides a color-coded map that shows the intensity of infections across the state. Information on the virus, testing, restrictions and current status can be found at http://www.floridahealth.gov
Alachua County has been lucky so far with only four confirmed cases but testing has been limited and is just getting up to speed. Each of the city governments have tried to limit contact and the spread by canceling events.
In Newberry, Mayor Jordan Marlowe announced on March 17 that he will be declaring a State of Emergency for the City of Newberry. This will help make additional funds available to the city to combat the virus. Gainesville has also declared a State of Emergency and canceled all public events. Newberry has canceled all recreation programs, including any activities at the Easton Sports Complex. They have canceled all city meetings that are not time sensitive and set up a drive-through center for people interacting with city departments as well as creating online payments for all utilities. The mayor has also recommended that employees work from home. Open air parks in Newberry will remain open at present. Newberry also has two meal programs to feed students that depend on school meals. The city distributes meals at the MLK Community Center during the week. For information call the city at 352-472-2161. United Methodist Church also has a food program on Sundays for students.
In High Springs, the city has suspended all city activities, including food giveaways, excluding school board-sanctioned services, until further notice. Enclosed structures, including the bathrooms in city parks and playground equipment are closed. Large pickup games and parties in city parks are also discouraged, as the CDC encourages “social distancing.” High Springs City Hall will be closed as of March 17, 2020 at 6 p.m. and will remain closed until April 6. Residents are encouraged to utilize online services available through the website at highsprings.us, including tag renewal.
Online fees will be reduced during this time from $3.50 to $2.50. Canceled events include the weekly Farmers Market, Music in The Park series and all non-essential meetings. Several businesses have also shut their doors including Rum 138, which provides river trips and rental kayaks. The owners felt that because they have customers from all over the world interacting it would be best to minimize the risk to customers by closing. The Chamber of Commerce has also postponed their annual Murder Mystery charity play. Deeper Community Church in High Springs is organizing a free meal program for students. The Alachua County School Board is also offering free meals at a number of campuses including Santa Fe High School.
In the City of Alachua, City parks remain open for public use, although that may change. However, no organized gatherings are permitted. All youth sports have been suspended until at least March 30, 2020. All special events have been suspended until at least March 30, 2020. Two large annual events, the Cattleman's Ball sponsored by the Alachua Lions Club and the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life have been canceled or postponed as well. City services are available under normal operating conditions including online pay options and all facilities are operating with increased sanitizing and disinfecting protocol. Several restaurants including Mi Apa have switched to take-out or delivery only to avoid crowds.
The restrictions and business closings will affect both the local and national economy, possibly for a much longer time and may even bring about an economic recession. The virus's exponential infection rate, data and developments are constantly changing, often within hours. While the disease is serious and unprecedented, it must be remembered that it can be mild in younger patients but deadly in others.
Containment depends on all people working together and being aware of others around them. Alachua Today will continue to provide updated information. For up-to-the-minute information, readers can go to Florida Health Department website https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/ or the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/
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