by Julie B. Maglio & Rocco Maglio
Daily life has become very different from what it was just a month ago. On April 1, 2020 Governor Ron Desantis issued a “Safer at Home” Executive Order for the state of Florida. The novel Covid-19 pandemic is a historic event and how our government has responded to the threat of the virus is novel in itself.
To prevent an overwhelming increase of COVID-19 cases, the government has instituted changes to how we live. Some of the changes are detrimental to small businesses that must close to the public entirely or in the case of medical practices that can only provide emergency services to patients. The business community is responding to these changes in a heroic fashion.
Some are repurposing their businesses to serve the public, others are assisting in efforts to provide supplies to battle the virus. The ingenuity of American businesses will allow a stronger recovery following the disaster. Instead of closing their doors entirely, many businesses are finding ways to provide services people need. This will ultimately limit the amount of bailout dollars needed to recover.
Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, microbreweries, and other places that people congregate have drastically changed their businesses to survive the current measures put in place to slow the spread of the illness.
The switch that food and drink establishments have made has resulted in the need for less staff. A takeout restaurant does not need to employ many people, neither does a package store. With people quarantined at home many of these takeout restaurants are seeing many less patrons.
The people who supply the food establishments are having to find new customers. Patrick’s Produce is an example of this ingenuity. Normally they supply produce to restaurants, but due to the drop in demand they have opened up a produce stand on the corner of Croom Road and McIntyre Road.
Locomo, a skating rink in Spring Hill, has started connecting with their community via a skate at home series of events on facebook. They are finishing up a “color your skates” competition. Florida Cracker Kitchen held a virtual happy hour for their community to interact. These events do not currently benefit the businesses, but they help to maintain the community they have formed.
Grace Lutheran Church of Spring Hill will begin drive-in services on Easter Sunday April 12. They broadcast the sermons on a FM channel and patrons can listen from their cars while maintaining social distancing. A church news release states, “Sunday drive-in services will begin at 10:00am and be held in the church’s parking lot located at 411 Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill. Everyone is welcome. These Sunday drive-in services are planned to continue as long as the church remains closed to regular Sunday worship services.” Like many other churches in the area, their services are also available online.
In our “Safer at Home” world venturing out into public is substantially different. Signs tell us to be cautious of others and maintain a 6 foot distance, cover your cough or sneeze, wash your hands often, don’t touch your face. Many customers at the grocery stores choose to wear masks and gloves while they shop. Circles on the floor tell customers where to stand adhering to the 6 foot distancing rule. Store workers are busy thoroughly disinfecting shopping carts. Plexiglas has been installed at the checkout counters to protect the cashiers. At local Walmarts, a system is in place to allow a certain number of shoppers in the store.
At the Walmart on 19, there is a limit of 700 people who can be inside including the workers. Customers must go through the line delineated by yellow tape and a Walmart staff member counts the number of people that go through the line on a tablet. The same procedure is in place at the Walmart on 50, except the maximum number of people allowed inside is 1,000.
Florida residents are allowed to go outside to exercise according to the new guidelines, but all local and state parks and some preserves are now closed. Mike Singer, the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands specialist advised that Lake Townsen Preserve, Fickett Hammock and Cypress Lakes Preserve remain available for public use.
Weeki Wachee Preserve, maintained by Southwest Florida Water Management District is closed due to large numbers of people congregating at the preserve.
Susanna Martinez Tarokh, SWFWMD Public Information Officer issued this statement,
“The District has received multiple reports from law enforcement officials that some members of the public… have been gathering in groups larger than 10 at the Weekiwachee Preserve. The District’s decision to temporarily close the Weekiwachee Preserve is in the interest of protecting public health and safety as we continue to fight the spread of COVID-19.
“Other District-managed recreation lands remain open for individual and small group day use in the 16-county region as long as recreational users avoid gatherings larger than 10 people and distance themselves a minimum of six feet from others. The District appreciates the visitors who have followed these rules and encourage them to continue doing so.”
A district property that remains open in Hernando County is Annutteliga Hammock at 11019 Centralia Road; Weeki Wachee, FL 34614. There is a hiking/horseback riding trail.
The Weeki Wachee Springs attraction is eerily quiet, as they are also closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. The long line of people eager to take a dip in the spring is a familiar sight this time of year as you drive by on US-19. It is strange to see the empty barricades on a normally busy Saturday or Sunday. Our reporter Megan Hussey is working on a story about how the iconic mermaids are still able to interact with their fans and bring joy to area residents and non-residents alike.
A large part of our ‘Safer at Home’ world is now virtual. Students now go to school online where they interact with their teachers over video meetings and receive their assignments digitally. Many workers are accomplishing tasks from home via the internet without the need to go into the office.
After COVID-19 is under control, it will be interesting to see how many of these changes will be retained. We have increased our reliance on the internet tenfold and will this embrace of virtual interactions continue when we are released from the “Safer at Home” order?
Summer Hampton, Alice Mary Herden, Betty Kolar and Lisa MacNeil contributed to this report.