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ALACHUA COUNTY – Like many states, Florida has begun reopening business and easing social restrictions. As of May 19, there were 46,944 cases and 2,052 deaths in Florida. While numbers have declined somewhat from early April when cases were averaging between 800 to 1,100 daily, infections continue to spike and recede with single day increases varying between 500 and 850 cases per day.

Part of this represents an increase in testing while part of the decline from early April is due to the month-long stay at home requirements, many of which have been lifted in the past week. Any upswing in infections due to reopening will not become apparent for a week or two due to the incubation period of the virus. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and many businesses feel economic pressure building to further ease restrictions. DeSantis has now issued revised rules for reopening in Phase 1 and is now considering Phase 2 of the three-phase plan.

Alachua County has had more stringent requirements on social distancing, regarding what establishments can open and how, and requiring that masks be worn. Alachua County officials issued a revised emergency order May 17 that brings local COVID-19 rules closer to those issued by the state the previous Friday.

New regulations allow certain businesses to operate at up to 50 percent versus the previous local rules that capped businesses at 25 percent. If a restaurant has outdoor seating spaced six feet apart, then that is not included in the 50 percent rule. Local gyms may now open using social distancing.

Individuals considered most vulnerable to infection are still urged to stay home as much as possible and to use care when leaving home. Public places where social distancing is difficult to maintain remain closed, including zoos, playgrounds, bowling alleys, pool halls, movie and other theaters and concert halls and bars, among others. All services and activities must still keep the six-foot distance rules between employees and members of the public, including when customers are standing in line. Churches are now open, but are limited by the same occupancy and social distancing rules as businesses.

Bowing to pressure from some groups, the governor also declared that while masks are suggested he would not make it mandatory. In Alachua County mandatory mask rules were instituted on May 1, but in a 3-2 vote on May 19 the County Commission voted to reverse that ruling and not make masks mandatory. Later in the day, the County Commission reversed that decision and are still requiring that face masks be worn. There will no longer be a criminal penalty for disobeying the county's order, although earlier there were fines up to $500 for not wearing masks. The County also now allows pool halls and bowling alleys to open as long as they don’t serve alcohol.

With the reopening, things are beginning to have a semblance of normalcy as local businesses and restaurants partially reopen. Traffic has increased and more people are out on the street. Many still wear a mask both for their own safety and out of respect for others’ safety as well. Other places, especially outdoor recreation locations are overwhelmed with people who have been stuck at home for a month. Unfortunately, some people are not concerned about the safety rules or crowds. On Saturday, May 16, the popular Ginnie Springs Recreation area was so overwhelmed by crowds, that they had to close entrance to the park by 11 am.

For local businesses and entrepreneurs, the reopening is a financial relief, especially for the self-employed or service workers. For many there has been no income for at least a month. Massage therapist Carrie Lynn had set up a massage chair outside a farmer’s market at Bambi’s Cafe in High Springs. She was offering massages for a donation. “I just need to get out and work my profession. I have been in self quarantine since February and no income due to the COVID,” Lynn said.

“Massage therapists were not considered essential medically so we had to stop all business. Massage therapists have always been concerned about transmission of disease and conditions; we use disinfectants and clean materials between each client. Now the only change is an increased use of gloves and masks by therapist. If there is something good that comes out of this maybe it will be an increased awareness of the importance of hygiene,” Lynn said.

The Great Outdoor Restaurant closed when restaurants were only allowed to do take-out orders as they didn't think it was practical for their menu. That left many of the restaurant employees facing the possibility of being laid off with no income. Instead, they used the closed time to renovate, repair and clean the restaurant and patio using the staff instead of contractors, which kept the staff employed.

As Florida progresses through Phast 1,all eyes are on when and what to expect when Florida enters Phase 2 of reopening, although there is no timeline for when that will happen.

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HIGH SPRINGS – With 36.5 million Americans suddenly unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have seen both their income and savings disappear. It becomes a challenge to decide what bills or necessities can be done without. Mortgage or rent, utilities, food or medical all are important, but food is essential.

Many individuals and organizations have stepped in to donate or volunteer for food giveaways and deliveries. The Alachua County school system has provided over a million meals to school kids during the pandemic. Farm Share and other charity food distribution organizations travel the state bringing semi-trucks of food to communities.

Locally, many churches or community organizations have donated food or money, distributing the food to people in cars lined up in parking lots, masked and never coming in direct contact with the drivers. Most of these organizations hold these drives weekly or bi-weekly, but one small ministry in High Springs is making an effort daily to provide for those in need.

Every day, Pastor Sammy Nelson has overseen the distribution of donated food to families in need with children. He usually ran the distribution in his small downtown ministry, Witness of Christ (WOC), on Main Street in High Springs. But the Covid-19 has brought a bigger challenge. “I have seen a huge rise in families in need. People coming to the food distribution has increased 100 percent or more, but you have to meet the challenge to help them,” Nelson said.

The pastor is a big man with a powerful build but a soft, calm voice. He was born in Archer and spent 23 years in the Army as a Military Policeman. During his service he participated in Desert Storm and retired as a First Sergeant.

During his time in the Army he also had other duties as a father and a pastor. He and his wife of 35 years raised 10 children and have seven grandchildren. They share both a strong religious belief and a love for children as well. While raising 10 of their own, they also founded a ministry for children. Nelson made use of the Army's education benefits and received a degree in law enforcement and a Bachelor’s Degree in sociology. Once he retired, he became a full-time student and received a Master’s in Divinity and a Doctorate in Ministry.

Ten years ago, Nelson and his wife opened a storefront where they could offer after-school services to struggling parents. The ministry also collects food for the children and struggling families. Most of it comes from donations by individuals, farms and food stores such as Hitchcock’s and Publix. The biggest provider is Bread of the Mighty Food Bank in Gainesville. Three days a week, Nelson would go to each location, as well as some farms, to gather the food donations.

With the increasing need caused by the pandemic, Nelson searched for more sources and sponsors to meet the skyrocketing demand. He also needed a bigger place to distribute and worked with the City of High Springs to distribute from a parking lot behind Main Street with police to direct the traffic.

The ministry still does smaller distributions from the building three times a week, but the other is a bigger operation with trailers full of food pallets. On May 16 the WOC held its largest distribution with 14 pallets supplying multiple boxes of food to the long line of cars winding through the parking lot. Nelson, along with volunteers from his ministry, all wearing masks and gloves, loaded each car's trunk with boxes holding a variety of food including fresh vegetables, cheese, milk, snacks and chips. “We will be here and providing for those who go hungry as long as the need exists,” Nelson said as he loaded another box in a car.

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GAINESVILLE – A new Alachua Habitat for Humanity (AHFH) home constructed indoors at Santa Fe College’s Charles R. Perry Construction Institute is set to roll to its final destination at 3515 SE 22nd Place on Thursday, May 28. The house leaves Santa Fe College’s facility in two parts starting at 9:00 am and will arrive on-site at approximately 9:45 am.

 “These homes are part of a unique and very collaborative project,” AHFH Executive Director Scott Winzeler said. “The program allows an AHFH partner family a hand-up opportunity to become a first-time homeowner – many times the first person in the family’s history to own a home; and the partnership with Santa Fe College allows few students and apprentices a hands-on construction experience while pursuing their education.”

The home is built at the college in two sections and then each section is transported separately. When construction is completed and the structure is ready to move, each section is jacked up and loaded by crane on to a trailer and then slowly transported to the home site. (The SE 22nd Place property was donated by Alachua County.)  At the site, a crane then lifts each of the sections off the semi- trailer and sets them into place on the foundation built by Habitat. After the home is set, a front porch, back porch, driveway and landscaping will be added by Alachua Habitat partners and volunteers.

Alachua Habitat for Humanity supports its homeownership program through donations, grants, and principal payments from family partners. Habitat is a hand-up to a homeowner not a hand-out - all homeowners assume an affordable mortgage for their homes at the end of their 400 committed sweat equity hours. The principal paid by Habitat Family Partners is then used to build more homes, allowing our families the opportunity to pay forward the gift of homeownership.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - On Monday, June 1, 2020, Alachua County operations will be open to the public by appointment only. Those wanting to enter County buildings should contact the needed department and schedule an appointment. Before entering County buildings, citizens will be required to wear a mask (unless they qualify for an exemption), successfully pass a temperature check. (If a person's temperature exceeds 100.0 degrees, they will not be granted access to County buildings, but alternate services may be available), and answer several screening questions (when making their appointment and when reporting to their appointment).
The screening questions include:
  • Have you traveled to the following places in the last 14 days? a. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Louisiana? b. Outside of the country?
  • Are you experiencing any unexplained persistent coughing (e.g. not related to seasonal allergies, or of an unknown origin)?
  • Are you experiencing any respiratory issues (e.g. heaviness in your chest or trouble breathing)?
Enhanced cleaning services are on-going to protect County citizens and staff. These protocols will continue until further notice.
For more information, call 352-374-5204.
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GAINESVILLE Summer with the Library lifts off May 29 with all programming and fun going online. Community members can register at www.aclib.us/summer and track their participation from May 29-Aug. 2 for a chance to win a new Samsung Galaxy Tablet, courtesy of Summer with the Library sponsor PDQ Restaurant.

Patrons of all ages can join in the Alachua County Library District’s summer program by registering online and tracking their progress with participation badges. Anyone who registers and earns at least 1 more badge will be entered into the raffle for a tablet. The more badges earned by Aug. 2, the better the chances of winning. Three winners will be selected - one child, one teen, and one adult – and will each receive a tablet. Winners will be announced Sept. 1 on Facebook and www.aclib.us.

Summer with the Library launches at 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 29 with Summer Reader Palooza LIVE - a Facebook Live event featuring special library guests, kid-friendly performances, and a DJ dance party. Tune in for a behind-the-scenes look at the library and details on how to register for summer fun.

Popular library programs like story times will continue online this summer. Plus, patrons can catch special virtual programs including book clubs, DIY tutorials, Adult Summer Camp, and more. Subscribe to the Library District’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/alachualibrary, and follow the Library District on Facebook to watch programs and interact with librarians.

The library also offers dozens of digital resources for learning and entertainment, as well as more than 81,000 eBooks online. Patrons can pick up materials, including books, movies, and music, Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at any branch.

“We look forward to helping children and their caretakers continue to grow with reading all summer long,” said Alachua County Library District Director Shaney T. Livingston.

The Library District thanks the following sponsors for their generous support of Summer with the Library: PDQ Restaurant, Friends of the Library, Cox Communications, Giggle Magazine, and the Gainesville Sun. 

Contact Rachel Cook at rcook@aclib.us or 352-334-3909 for details.

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GAINESVILLE – Despite the office being closed since March 13, the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors® (GACAR) continues to find ways to engage its members and support the community.

On Friday, May 22 and Friday, May 29 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., GACAR will be hosting a drive-up food drive benefitting Bread of the Mighty Food Bank.

GACAR volunteers will be on hand both days to accept any monetary and/or food donations as members drive through the office parking lot to drop off their donations. GACAR President Jeremy Thomas was not surprised when members came together to propose the food drive. “Our Association has a long history of serving this community. The members of GACAR are people of action, so when the idea to help Bread of the Mighty was mentioned, there was no hesitation and plans were immediately made. Not even a pandemic could stop GACAR from coming together to help our community,” he said.

All necessary precautions will be taken to ensure the health of volunteers and donors. Thomas said, “This contactless drive-up food drive demonstrates our members’ adaptability and dedication to service despite the challenges that COVID-19 has thrust upon us. GACAR is proud to be a source of support and example of resilience during these trying times.”

This food drive is open to all GACAR members and the community at large. GACAR members unable to participate are encouraged to visit www.GACAR.com and consider making a monetary donation. Members of the public that are unable to attend the drive-up event are encouraged to send monetary donations directly to Bread of the Mighty at www.breadofthemighty.org/donate.

Ninety-six cents of every $1 raised goes directly to the community, and every $1 provides up to 10 meals.

Critical items that Bread of the Mighty has requested include non-perishable food items * Pasta * Canned Potatoes * Peanut Butter * Jelly * Soups * Canned Veggies *Canned Fruits and Juices * Canned Proteins (Chicken, Tuna, Beans) * Canned Chili, Stew, or other meat-based foods*. Non-Food items needed *Toilet Paper * Tissues * Paper Towels * Wipes * Soap * Shampoo * Deodorant * Toothpaste * Toothbrushes.

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ALACHUA COUNTY – Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Clarke will host the district’s second Telephone Town Hall meeting on Thursday, May 28 from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. to respond to questions from families, employees and the public about the impact of COVID-19 on local schools and students. Other district and school staff will also be available to respond to questions.

The Town Hall will be available in both English and Spanish and will be streamed on YouTube at

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCydIqRtzUHvNlsReBrAu9nw

Anyone who would like to participate, either by calling and asking a question or simply listening in, can register with their name and preferred phone number at:

https://tthm.wufoo.com/forms/alachua-county-public-schools-teletownhall-sign-up/

ACPS families and employees are already registered through the primary phone number listed on the district’s database, but they can provide a preferred number at the same site. Registration for the event closes at 4:15 p.m. on May 28.

Those who are registered for the town hall will receive automated phone calls immediately before it begins. They will then remain on the line to be connected.

Anyone needing more information can call the district’s Communications Office at 352-955-7545.

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