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Thursday, May 28 2020

As we all deal with challenging demands of the coronavirus, the June 1 start of hurricane season is coming and it’s important to get prepared. Because of COVID-19, getting prepared will look a little different than in other years. With that thinking in mind, the Florida Gulf Coast to Heartland Chapter of the American Red Cross has tips to help you.

Make a plan

If authorities advise you to evacuate, be prepared to leave immediately with your evacuation kit (see below).

¦ Plan now if you need help leaving or if you need to share transportation.

¦ Ask friends or relatives outside your area if you are able to stay with them. Check and see if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have people in their home at higher risk for serious illness. If they have symptoms or people at higher risk in their home, make other arrangements. Check with hotels, motels and campgrounds to see if they are open. Find out if your local emergency management agency has adapted its sheltering plans.

¦ Check with the Centers for Disease Control and update emergency plans due to coronavirus.

¦ Plan ahead for your pets. Keep a phone list of pet-friendly hotels/motels and animal shelters that are along your evacuation routes. Remember, if it’s not safe for you to stay home, it’s not safe for your pets either.

Build a kit

Assemble two kits of emergency supplies and a one-month supply of prescription medication. Some supplies may be hard to get, and availability will worsen in a disaster, so start gathering supplies now. Start with this basic supply list:

¦ Stay-at-home kit: Include everything you need to stay at home for at least two weeks with items such as food, water, household cleaning and disinfectant supplies, soap, paper products and personal hygiene items.

¦ Evacuation kit: Your second kit should be a lightweight, smaller version that you can take with you if you must leave your home quickly. Include everything you need to be on your own for three days:

¦ Food and water

¦ Personal hygiene items

¦ Cleaning and disinfectant supplies that you can use on the go (tissues, hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol and disinfecting wipes)

¦ Cloth face coverings for everyone in your household who can wear one safely. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing. Continue to keep about 6 feet between yourself and others in public. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove it without help.

¦ Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream

¦ Pet food and extra water for your pet

¦ Cash or traveler’s checks

¦ Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container

¦ 1-month supply of prescription medication, as well as over-the-counter medications such as cough suppressants and fever reducing drugs and medical supplies or equipment. Keep these items together in a separate container so you can take them with you if you have to evacuate.

Be informed

¦ Have access to weather alerts and community notifications. Be sure that you can receive official notifications even during a power outage. Follow directions of state and local authorities.

¦ Use the Red Cross interactive map to identify likely disasters in your area.

¦ Learn about your community’s response plan for each disaster and determine if these plans have been adapted because of COVID-19.

¦ Find contact information for state, local and tribal governments and agencies, and for state emergency management agencies.

¦ Because of COVID-19, stay current on advice and restrictions from your state and local public health authorities as it may affect your actions and available resources and facilities.

Take a first aid and CPR/course online to learn what to do in case emergency help is delayed. Download the Red Cross Emergency App for instant access to weather alerts for your area and where loved ones live. Visit for full information about what to do before, during and after a hurricane. ¦

Tuesday, May 19 2020

At least seven homes were lost in a brush fire in southwest Florida, and many of the victims say they escaped with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

The 8,663-acre wildfire fire in Collier County continued to burn over the weekend and was around 40 percent contained as of Sunday. The Florida Forest Service said in a release Sunday morning that 146 firefighters were working to contain the fire.

Greater Naples Fire Chief Kingman Schuldt confirmed earlier that seven residences were lost in the blaze.

The Naples Daily News spoke with residents Saturday and found several displaced community members, suggesting the official number of homes lost will rise.

One man thought he’d lost his father to the blaze. Michael Christensen drove through the fire Wednesday only to find his dad’s trailer engulfed in flames.

Neighbors told Christensen that his dad, also named Mike Christensen, was refusing to leave his home for more than 40 years.

“I couldn’t see anything,” he said. “All I could see was flames. Like dad, dad, where are you dad?”

What Christensen didn’t know at the time was that another neighbor had already grabbed his dad and hauled him to safety, “kicking and screaming,” Michael Christensen’s wife, Patty, said.

Mike Christensen, a heart transplant recipient about 10 years back, recently suffered a stroke. He still struggles to speak, but remains committed to staying on the land.

“I lost everything,” he said, but added, “I ain’t leaving.”

Thursday, May 07 2020

As Florida slowly reopens, officials are now contemplating what they should do if the coronavirus outbreak lingers into hurricane season, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and usually peaks from late August through September. Florida is often a target for storms, forcing thousands of people to evacuate with many fleeing to shelters.

“We don’t know how the virus is going to react as we move into these various stages. We don’t know what it’s going to look like a month from now, three months from now, but we have to assume that it’s going to be with is in some capacity, so how do you deal with hurricane issues?” DeSantis said at a news conference in Sarasota.

Florida has had more than 37,000 confirmed coronavirus cases resulting in nearly 1,500 deaths. DeSantis partially lifted his “safer at home” order Monday, allowing restaurants and retail shops to begin operating at 25% capacity.

“This virus really thrives and transmits when you have close sustained contact with people inside an enclosed environment,” DeSantis said. “As you’re looking at sheltering for a hurricane, you have to keep that in mind. If you pile people into a place, under normal circumstances that may be fine, but that would potentially allow the virus to really spread if somebody is in fact infected.”

Florida emergency management Director Jared Moskowitz is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on potential changes to how the state handles evacuations and sheltering.

Moskowitz said that might include shelters that only accept people infected with the virus, or orders for people to shelter in place depending on the strength of the building and the power of the storm.

“We’re going to do more non-congregate sheltering instead of mass congregate sheltering,” he said.

Moskowitz also said the state will stockpile personal protective equipment in preparation for the storm season, including 10 million masks.

Among other topics DeSantis focused on were:

  • The state planned to announce details of a mobile testing facility that will do rapid testing at long-term care facilities. It will be a recreational vehicle equipped with a lab.
  • The state is getting ready to begin serological testing to see if people have antibodies that indicate they were infected, recovered and didn’t know they had the disease. Florida has 200,000 test kits that will be sent to hospitals and be available at driveup testing sites. “Antibody testing is finally here. We’re going to get many more coming down the line, but those 200,000 I think will be a really good start.”
  • DeSantis said one of the biggest problems the state faced when trying to obtain masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment is that much of it was manufactured in China and was slow to arrive in the United States. “All this stuff should be made in the United States and not in China. We don’t want our health destiny resting in the hands of a communist dictatorship.”
  • DeSantis allowed restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages during the stay at home order. He said he’d like that to become permanent. “I think that’s been pretty popular. We’re probably going to keep that going. Maybe we’ll have the Legislature change the law on that.”

Monday, May 04 2020

Florida’s restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to reopen Monday at 25% capacity, if the local government allows it, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday, as the state begins the slow climb from the economic abyss caused by the coronavirus.

The governor specifically excluded hard-hit, heavily populated Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, saying their businesses will begin phase one when it is safer.

His order will also allow hospitals and surgical centers statewide to restart nonessential, elective procedures – but only if they have sufficient medical supplies and agree to help nursing homes and assisted living facilities prevent and respond to coronavirus outbreaks. Parks, golf courses and other outdoor recreation areas already began reopening in some counties Wednesday.

“I am convinced we can take this step. We will be smart, we will be safe and we will do it step-by-step, but we should have hope,” DeSantis said. “We are resourceful, we are innovative, we can get this done. It is not going to happen overnight. If there was some magic where I could flip the switch, I would do it.”

DeSantis, a Republican, is being more cautious than the neighboring state of Georgia, as well as the task force DeSantis formed last week to study how to get people back to work. The task force suggested restaurants could operate at 50% capacity, but the governor is easing in more slowly – 25% capacity inside, tables 6-feet apart outdoors. He said earlier this week that Florida will take “baby steps” in trying to resume business and is following through with that approach.

The task force also suggested reopening gyms and barbershops with restrictions, but he’s not allowing that in the first phase. DeSantis is also not setting a date for the second phase. Instead, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to how the state fares during the first phase.

“My hope is that we are thinking about each phase as weeks, not thinking about months,” DeSantis said. “We are making progress. We need to put people back to work in a safe, smart and step-by-step way, but it is going to be data driven.”

Bars and nightclubs also won’t reopen yet, but DeSantis gave approval to sporting events if they don’t include spectators. The state will continue to restrict visitors to nursing homes and state prisons.

Florida has had more than 33,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, resulting in at least 1,218 deaths, according to the state Department of Health. But there has been a downward trend in new cases since early April.

More than 800,000 Floridians have filed for unemployment as the state’s two biggest economic sectors, tourism and agriculture, have been decimated after visitors fled and institutional produce buyers such as hotels and schools closed.

Still, many Floridians did not seem eager Wednesday to resume even partial normalcy. Retired Jacksonville teacher Pamela Riggs-Stoia said reopening anything without more testing for the disease and contact-tracing is foolish.

“I feel like we are treating people as disposable. Remember that not only are the participants in the newly opened places susceptible to infection, but the resulting secondary infections to family, roommates, etc, and most importantly exposing our medical providers to more and more viral load,” said Riggs-Stoia, 60.

Sherif Andretta, a 35-year-old Miami music producer, said he welcomes the opening of parks and outdoor spaces especially since his dog misses her walks. But he is hesitant to go to a restaurant or anywhere that draws people into tight quarters.

“Living in Miami, we are the most dense part of the state, and have to be more cautious than other cities,” Andretta said. “I will continue to practice social distancing, and will avoid restaurants and other nonessential businesses until I believe it is safe.”

Zeytin Turkish Cuisine in Orlando will remain closed to sit-down dining for up to another month for safety reasons. Co-owner Michele Bourassa said that since the lockdown the mom-and-pop restaurant has only been serving takeout and earning about half its normal revenue. Any economic benefits to reopening don’t outweigh the risks, she said. Even if the restaurant were to reopen, with a requirement for only 25% capacity, “a restaurant isn’t going to make any money.”

“We don’t feel like it’s safe to open,” Bourassa said. “We don’t want someone coming in here who is sick.”

DeSantis was one of the last governors to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, preferring a county-by-county approach throughout March. Statewide, he essentially closed bars March 17 and on March 20 he closed gyms, limited restaurants to takeout and delivery and banned gatherings greater than 10. Schools also closed in March.

On April 1, the governor ordered the closure of nonessential businesses statewide starting two days later and ordered employees to work from home wherever possible.

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