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Coronavirus: The latest local updates, cancellations, resources, + more

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Major Local Announcements

  • On Thursday, the Florida Department of Health announced 2,541 new cases of COVID-19 and 177 additional deaths in Florida. That brings the total number of cases in FL of COVID-19 to 693,040 + the total deaths to 13,795. You can find more updates on the Florida Department of Health dashboard. See Lakeland numbers here.
  • The national research and development company Johnson & Johnson is in the final stages of a study which will determine whether a single-dose vaccine against the COVID-19 virus will be effective. The clinical trial involves 60,000 volunteers in the US and seven other countries. Click here to read more. (TechWire)
  • Watson Clinic is joining 30 other medical centers to study how certain medicines affect blood clots in COVID-19 patients. Patients at local hospitals with confirmed cases of coronavirus will be given the option of joining the study – which includes receiving doses of a blood-thinning anticoagulant + a medicine that keeps blood platelets from forming clots. (The Ledger)
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired Florida Polytechnic University to innovate the way they employ students and support the community while nurturing the STEM field. Through a partnership with Knack, Florida Poly students are now provided with flexible work as peer tutors for high school students in the area. (Forbes)
  • While the unemployment rate in Polk County has improved from 13.2% in July to 9.3% in August, it continues to remain as one of the top counties with the highest rates of unemployment in Florida. Tourism and sports are the main sources of Polk’s economic activity, which has suffered an extreme hit due to COVID-19. Additionally, Polk has experienced a 17.2% decline in tourism jobs –– the largest out of any Florida county when compared to August of last year. (The Ledger)
  • The CDC is recommending against traditional Halloween activities like trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and say that costume parties are “high risk” for transmitting COVID-19. They have created a list of “lower-risk” Halloween activities on their website, including virtual costume contests, family pumpkin carving, and even decorating your home instead of going out. (Bay News 9)
  • Employees working at any business in Lakeland may now ask customers to remove their face coverings briefly in order to verify their identification. This is part of an exception to Lakelands mask rules, which was approved by the City Commision earlier this weekLearn more here. (Lkld Now)
  • Polk County Public Schools have announced the extension of volunteer credentials due to COVID-19. The extension will last for one year and accounts for all volunteers whose credentials might have expired or are set to expire this year. The extension is dependent from volunteer to volunteer and the extension dates will vary.
  • Steve Peacock was the first visitor allowed into the Rohr Home in Bartow to see his 87-year-old mother, Lois Peacock, since a ban on visits to long-term care center visits in March. Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted the ban on Sept. 1 with new provisions for visitation. The new executive directive outlines specific guidelines on types of visits including: general visits, compassionate care, and essential care visits. (The Ledger)
  • Florida will be one of five “pilot jurisdictions” to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Phase 1 of vaccinations will focus on essential workers, those with underlying conditions, and people 65 years of age or older. (Wesh 2 News)
  • DYK how Polk County scores on Florida’s scorecard, as it concerns COVID-19? Check out the stats here.
  • Florida Southern College (FSC)  has shut down all sports activities after three of its lacrosse players have tested positive for COVID-19. These cases are a first for the college as it relates student-athlete cases of COVID-19. At this time, the sports-related activities have not been rescheduled and contact tracing has been implemented. (The Ledger)
  • Polk Pride, FL will resume meetings on the second Monday of every month starting Oct. 12, after a six-month hiatus. The meeting will take place at the Beacon Hill Fellowship (220 W. Beacon Rd.) in the parking lot to allow for social distancing. Participants are required to bring their own chair and mask. 
  • Frostproof’s head coach has tested positive for COVID-19, postponing The Bulldogs games until Oct. 2, when they are scheduled to play against Lake Placid. The school’s football program is now the third in the county to be temporarily delayed due to COVID-19. (The Ledger)
  • Due to COVID-19, FL lawmakers are looking at a multi-billion dollar revenue shortfall, the tourism industry will take a couple of years to recover, and it will take several more years for unemployment rates to fall under 4%. However, according to economists, Florida’s COVID-19 recovery will not last as long as the Great Recession + the state is still better positioned than other states, and that people will still continue to move here. (Tampa Bay Times)
  • While federal guidelines still mandate that nursing home staff be tested for COVID-19, staff at assisted-living facilities in Florida no longer have to be. This is due to the expiration of a state rule requesting that assisted-living facilities routinely test staff. The expiration doesn’t affect resident testing. In FL, there are over 3,100 assisted living facilities. (Tampa Bay Times) 
  • In Florida, COVID-19 deaths are higher among minority children. According to the study by the CDC, nearly 80% of COVID-19 pediatric deaths were among Hispanic, Black, and American Indian/Alaskan Native children. (Orlando Weekly) 
  • The City of Winter Haven has extended the COVID-19 mask mandate for an additional 30 days through Oct. 15. Commissioners are planning to further explore data + engage in talks with local health experts to eventually lift the mandate. (The Ledger) 
  • To help her three-year-old son understand the changes happening in the world due to the pandemic, Polk County Public Schools teacher, Lyndsay Gendreau, wrote: “C Is For Coronavirus.” The Sand Hill Elementary teacher turned to independent graphic artists for help with illustrations + self-published through Amazon. The children’s book talks about mask-wearing, social-distancing, and more, and is available on Amazon + Barnes & Noble. (10 Tampa Bay)
  • In addition to the coverage we’re providing here and in our daily newsletter, you can also follow us on social media for up-to-the-minute news and announcements concerning the coronavirus. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.
  • The Polk County Commission has tentatively approved a new budget with a final vote set for Sept. 21. The $1.78 billion dollar budget will include a decrease in resident’s property taxes + is 5.5% bigger compared to the current budget which sits at $1.69 billion. The property tax decrease drops to $6.90 per $1,000 instead of the current $7.16. However, due to COVID-19 and its impacts, the budget is uncertain, more so than years prior. (The Ledger)
  • County commissioners + officials discussed the federally proposed “tax holiday” and decided that taxes will not be deferred for individuals that work for the Polk County government. Reasons for not offering the tax deferral program include the fact that relief would only be temporary, the county would take on too big of a liability, and that the workforce is too big to take on the risk. (The Ledger) 
  • Cafe Zuppina (4417 Florida Ave. S.) has reopened its coffeehouse, to allow seating to those who pick up food + to-go options at the restaurant. The restaurant is still takeout only. Masks are required when entering. (The Lakelander) 
  • While court hearings in Polk County have been held virtually for the past several months, jury trials are set to resume in October. Jurors can expect social distancing, mask requirements, plexiglass dividers on the judge’s bench, temperature checks + more. According to court officials, there is a current backlog of criminal and civil court cases due to the pandemic. (The Ledger)
  • Publix Super Markets + BayCare Health System were among other Florida companies on People’s list of 50 Companies That Care: Employers Who Have Gone Above & Beyond During the Pandemic. Since the start of COVID-19, Publix has purchased more than 11 million pounds of produce and 500,000 gallons of milk from local farmers, to share with people in need, along with donating over $5 million to charities. BayCare has been at the forefront of testing, by creating makeshift sites in parking lots to offer tests to anyone that wants one. (People Magazine) 
  • Florida recently ranked 41 on a new analysis ranking health systems across the nation. A big  reason for this ranking is the state’s spending 51% of the national average and thus places Florida as one of the worst in the nation. President of the Commonwealth Fund and physician, David Blumenthal cites the current struggle due to COVID-19 and its effects on an already stressed + teetering system. (The Ledger)
  • The Secretary of Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) Halsey Beshears announced that, starting today, all bars will be reopened at 50% capacity. The changes came under the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis rescinding Executive Order 20-09 from the DBPR. This is the first time that state bars are open at 50% capacity since June 26 when the order suspended all on-site sales of alcohol for consumption due to the rise of COVID-19 cases. (WTSP)
  • Polk County currently holds the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases out of Florida’s top 10 most populated counties. To compare, Polk’s positivity rate, as of Friday evening, was almost 8% while Pinellas, another populated county, was around 3%. (WFLA)
  • The City of Winter Haven is planning to extend its mask ordinance for an additional 30 days. Officials have also discussed ways to transition from an ordinance to more of a “direction,” encouraging citizens to wear masks. (The Ledger)
  • The Winter Haven Farmers Market is back this weekend, Sept. 12, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., in the parking lot at BB&T (across from Grove Roots Brewing Company), in Downtown Winter Haven, after going on a brief pause due to COVID-19. The market is taking additional safety precautions, such as hand sanitizer stations + space between tents.
  • Data from Feeding America shows that there was nearly a 14% food insecurity rate in Polk County in 2018 – before the pandemic. According to The Patch, this could trend upwards to 19.8% this year. Check out this list of local food pantries + services for help with food assistance.
  • City of Lakeland officials are asking for input from local banks to determine whether or not to allow flexibility when it comes to wearing a mask inside bank branches. On Sept. 21, City commissioners will discuss the issue more in-depth. (News Channel 8) 
  • Florida’s Lost Wages Assistance Program will begin its three-week installment of $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits as early as next week. In order to be approved, those claiming unemployment must be able to verify that they are unemployed or partially unemployed due to the effects of COVID-19. (WTSP)
  • Due to the spread of COVID-19, small businesses across the state are faced with finding new ways to stay afloat + keep their employees. One local business, Ensure Financial Group, has been able to increase hours for its employees during this time. The father-daughter duo + founders are continually working towards increasing its digital operations as well to keep business up and running. (CBS)
  • While Florida still requires bars to seat no more than 50% capacity, local bars have started to reopen by adding various food items. Among these, include Lakeland Loft (108 S. Tennessee Ave.), which now serves Mediterranean apps + cheeseboards, and Revival (119 S. Kentucky Ave.) which now serves peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and chicken sandwiches. (Lkld Now)
  • To help with financial hardships locals have endured due to COVID-19, Kathy Dobson founded It Takes a Village: A Community Coalition of Polk County. Members of the coalition include the Healthy Start Coalition of Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties, the Red Tent Initiative, the Atheists Community of Polk County + more. This diverse community-led group operates a mobile food pantry at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Lakeland (3140 Troy Ave.) on Thursdays at 9 a.m. According to the founder, Amazon has also designated it as “a charity of choice.” See more information about the food pantry here. (The Ledger)
  • Explorations V Children’s Museum (109 N. Kentucky Ave.has reopened with new hours of operation – Mon.-Sat., from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and now on Sun., from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. In lieu of other programs being offered, this month, the museum is showcasing art + sensory-themed program boxes, which can be purchased from the gift shop for $5. Additional safety protocols such as requirements for mask-wearing + hand washing are being taken. All three floors of the museum are reopened, including a new exhibit called “Build the Future,” which centers around the museum’s soon-to-be new location at Bonnet Springs Park (1025 George Jenkins Blvd.)(Lakeland Mom)
  • The Lakeland City Commission voted yesterday to extend the current mask ordinance until Oct. 5. This means that masks will continue to be required for people who live, work, visit or do business in the City of Lakeland in any indoor location (other than their home) + when not maintaining social distancing from other persons, excluding family members or companions. The ordinance will affect those within the city’s corporate limits.
  • Couple Erin and Ben Cohen had their wedding plans altered due to COVID-19, having to host their wedding up north without the Publix  that they ordered for the occasion. After catching word of the couple’s situation, the supermarket stepped in and sent them a box with all of the cake ingredients + decorative pieces from its headquarters in Lakeland. Publix also provided a live cake decorating call to teach the couple how to make the cake + provided an exact replica of the wedding cake for their family to have in Florida since they could not attend the wedding. (CNN)
  • Uber announced a new policy that requires passengers to provide photographic proof that they are wearing face coverings before entering an Uber in the US and Canada. If an Uber driver reports a passenger for not wearing a mask, the next time a customer requests a car service they must provide a selfie to prove they are wearing a face covering. (Fox 35)
  • Since April, Publix has purchased 11 million pounds of produce + 500,000 gallons of milk from local farmers to donate to Feeding America food banks. The goal behind this initiative is to help both Florida farmers and families adversely affected by COVID-19. Publix purchased excess milk and produce, as farmers had to discard products due to a decrease in demand. 🥬 (Fox 35)
  • New data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) shows that Polk County is behind all counties in Tampa Bay in terms of unemployment. While unemployment rates in Polk have improved (from 19% in May to 13.2% as of July), it still has the state’s fourth-highest unemployment rate. Some Polk County residents have become vulnerable to losing their jobs or already have become unemployed due to the downfall of the tourism and hospitality industries from nearby theme parks, as a result of COVID-19. (WFLA News Channel 8)
  • Monica Scott a Lakeland mother – shares her experience with finding child care assistance, finding a permanent home, and more, during COVID-19 in a Slate Magazine interview. (Slate)
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved $300 a week on top of regular state unemployment benefits of $275 per week to Floridians who can prove that they were unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lost Wages Assistance program does not have a set timeline for when money will reach applicants who qualify for at least $100 a week in state aid. (Orlando Weekly)
  • Gov. DeSantis announced that nursing homes will soon be allowed visitors after a ban was implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19. The order was lifted late yesterday afternoon + the decision was made under guidance from a nursing home task force. Those looking to visit their loved ones must wear protective masks, can enter two at a time, and homes must go 14 days COVID-free to maintain the visits. (The Ledger)
  • The Florida Department of Health will no longer work in tandem with Quest Diagnostics after the lab failed to document 75,000 COVID-19 tests. Some of the tests date back to April + all patients were notifiedhoweverstate law was violated. Quest claims the delay was due to technical issues and has apologized for the delay. (Tampa Bay Times)
  • Gov. DeSantis has asked + expects Floridians to “behave themselves” this Labor Day weekend in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The comment came about due to activities held during Memorial Day weekend, especially now that people have become more active(Creative Loafing)
  • The Florida Department of Education has doubled its contract with the Gunster law firm to $550,000 to represent Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Gov. Ron DeSantis, and other state education officials who are defendants in suits filed by the Florida Education Association regarding a July 6 emergency order to reopen schools. The state also increased its contract with the Eversheds Sutherland Law Firm to $315,000 to represent the state in separate lawsuits filed by college students requesting tuition reimbursements or adjustments after campuses closed abruptly in March due to COVID-19. (Creative Loafing)
  • Five Polk County nursing home facilities are experiencing steady increases in COVID-19 infections among their residents and staff. There are 18 new COVID-19 deaths in Polk’s long-term care facilities bringing the total to 234. In most infection cases among nursing home residents the facilities transfer patients for treatment at isolation sites(The Ledger)
  • The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DOE) secretary, Ken Lawson, has resigned after nine years of service. Lawson’s resignation has been preceded by months of technical and institutional issues in the department’s unemployment system, as thousands of people applied for + struggled to receive their unemployment benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bay News 9)
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated that he may extend Florida’s stay-on-evictions – which are currently set to expire Sept. 1. The current order limits protections to single-family homeowners and renters who have lost employment, experienced decreased wages + business income, and other financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeowners or renters who no longer become “adversely affected” by the pandemic will immediately lose their protective status from eviction or foreclosure. (Florida Politics)
  • Scientists at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium report that more sea turtles have died from boat strikes this year than all of 2019According to Mote scientists, social distancing may play a role in the uptick of severely injured sea turtles, as 18 of the 23 recorded boat strike cases began to spike starting in April when social distancing mandates were enforced. Out of all boat strike cases from 2019 and 2020 scientists have only been able to successfully rehabilitate one sea turtle.
  •  Publix has now ended its one-way aisle policy in select stores. The policy was initially implemented to enforce social distancing practices as a response to COVID-19. Social distancing signs and reminders + plexiglass barriers in checkout lanes will remain. (Click Orlando)
  • The Polk County Commission agreed to allocate $23 million in new spending from the Polk CARES 2020 program + will reach a vote verifying the measure today at 9 a.m. Lakeland Regional Health and BayCare Health System will receive up to $10 million in funding, another $10 million will go to an income support program for seniors and the disabled, and CareerSource Polk will receive $2.5 million towards job training for those unemployed due to the pandemic. The deadline to exhaust all federal CARES funding is Dec. 31. (The Ledger)
  • Orlando’s major theme parks have not had any COVID-19 outbreaks related to the parks’ opening or attendance. While there have been cases, outbreaks have been a non-issueaccording to Dr. Raul Pino. This is believed to be due to guests remaining primarily outdoors + lower admittance into the parks. (Click Orlando)
  • Florida’s medical examiners have relinquished the act of divulging whether or not certain deaths are due to COVID-19. The vote took place on Aug. 14 and it will now be up to the personal doctors whether or not they will inform the FDOH if COVID-19 was a primary or secondary cause of death. (The Ledger)
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis has applied to increase Florida unemployment benefits through The Lost Wages Assistance Program  a federal unemployment assistance program – by $300 per week. Benefits will be retroactive Aug. 1 (once approved) and will become available for those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. FL’s current unemployment has a cap of $275. (Click Orlando)
  • Local athletes began practicing on Wednesday – starting up the first practice day of the season. July 27 was supposed to be the initial day of practice but was pushed back due to COVID-19. Football players must have five days of practice before donning pads during practice, meaning that players won’t be in pads until next Wednesday. Most schools will host their first games on Sept. 11, giving players a little over a week to practice in pads. (The Ledger)
  •  Coronavirus testing is down in the US – including in FL. Health experts haven’t determined why testing has declined, but warn that it could impact contact tracing + other methods to curb the virus. Some speculate that testing may be down to previous testing wait times(Tampa Bay Times)
  • Florida has dropped behind Texas as a coronavirus hot spot – now making the Sunshine State no. 3 in COVID-19 cases. California still leads the US. FL previously was no. 2 mid-July, as cases in the state increased, while NY’s held steady. (The Palm Beach Post)
  • Gov. Ron Desantis’ task force on reopening nursing homes agreed to allow “essential caregivers” into a resident’s facility with the admission of “compassionate caregivers” on a limited basis. General visitors will also be allowed in a resident’s facility if said facilities adhere to strict health and safety requirements. However, the task force did not agree on the topic of physical contact between residents and general visitors and aims to meet again to reach a consensus. (Click Orlando)
  •  Reececliff Family Diner (940 Florida Ave. S.) has reopened after five months of closure due to COVID-19. Since its re-opening on Aug. 18, the diner has seen a 66% increase in total revenue. The diner took the time off to renovate its kitchen, flooring, lighting, and ceiling + remove seating to adhere to social distancing guidelines(The Ledger)
  • Polk’s Citrus Connection has announced the largest expansion the public transit has seen the past 20 years. A third hub will be added at Posner Park in Davenport beginning on Sept. 8 + will also include two new bus routes. The agency will use more than $7 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to support this new hub and expansion. (The Ledger)
  • Calling all philanthropists. One More Child – a local faith-based nonprofit that provides services to children, both locally + globally – is currently in need of food donations. This includes most food items, such as nonperishablesfrozen dinners, canned goodsfruit + more. You can drop items off at One More Child’s Main Campus (1015 Sikes Blvd.) at the Compassion Center, Mon.-Fri., from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. You don’t need an appointment to donate.
  • Counties in Central Florida are at the top of state unemployment rates. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant blow to the region’s economy, which is largely dependent on tourism. Polk county has now reached a 13.2% unemployment rate, which positions it just below Miami-Dade County (14.2%) and above Broward County (13.1%)Read more about the state-wide unemployment rankings here. (Orlando Sentinel)
  • A story about a Mulberry teacher has made headlines after leaving a career in education due to a denied request to work from home this school year. The teacher, Richard L., has been a Polk County educator for the past five years. Richard’s wife is seven months pregnant + was concerned about the potential to bring COVID-19 into his household. Due to this + a rejected medical exemption, he will not be returning to the classroom. (The Ledger)
  • 782 food service workers at the Orlando International Airport – who had been temporarily furloughed – will be permanently laid off on Oct. 15, if they have not already been recalled. The company that employs the airport workers cites the reason behind layoffs are due to the unprecedented effect of COVID-19 on the travel industry. Affected jobs include crew members, cookscashiers, and shift supervisors(Fox 35)
  • study by the University of South Florida finds that 71% of Floridians said they would be less likely to go to a hurricane shelter because of COVID-19 concerns. The study also found that Floridians are split on whether the pandemic would impact their decision to follow a voluntary evacuation order. Additionally, only half of Floridians have an evacuation or emergency plan kit.
  • LEGOLAND Florida is set to continue with plans for the Brick or Treat event this October. The event will feature socially distanced neighborhood-style trick-or-treating at six themed locations. Character experiences will return, as well as live shows. Health measures will be in place throughout the park – including temperature checkssanitization, mask requirements, and cashless payments.
  • Talk about philanthropy. The Wooden Spoon Diner (712 S. Collins St., Plant City) will be providing free breakfast today to 350 of Sheriff Grady Judd’s personnel at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven (1819 Jim Keene Blvd.) Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the diner has given away 1,710 meals to hospital staff, policefirecity hallassisted living personnel, ER’s, and many more in the Plant City, Brandon + Lakeland areasThanks to Reader George D. for sharing this with us.
  • The SUN n’ RUN 5k is back on at Lakeland Linder International Airport (3900 Don Emerson Dr.Sat., Dec. 5. The 5k will take place during the SUN n’ FUN Fall Festival of Flight and will begin on the War Bird Ramp. Participants will be able to experience aircraft arrivals and departures through the taxiway course path as they run. Register here.
  • According to The Ledger, close to half of Polk’s government divisions have tested positive for COVID-19. For those workers with positive tests, they are required to complete 10-days of at-home quarantine. Currently, the division hit the hardest with positive cases is the Fire Rescue Division with 13 positive tests. The county government is made up of 2,100 employees, meaning 1.6% have tested positive(The Ledger)
  • Lakeland City Commissioners decided on Monday that a dozen nonprofit social service agencies will be allotted their usual city funding. Originally, due to COVID-19, the city was considering slashing funds by 25%, however, this was out-voted 6-1(Lkld Now)
  • Up to 300 Pizza Hut dine-in locations will be closed in the US in order to invest in smaller stores designed for delivery, pick-up, and online orders. The agreement was made on Monday after franchisee NPC International filed in bankruptcy court. Of the eight operating PIzza Hut locations in Lakeland, six are owned by NPC International, however, there is no indication on whether or not these stores will be affected. While Pizza Hut did experience an eight-year high in June delivery sales, its US systemwide sales grew just 1% from April-June. (The Ledger)
  • A reporter from Spectrum 13 News is developing a story on patients currently in a Florida long-term care facility with a COVID-19 isolation unit. Click here to contact Stephanie to share your story.
  • Due to COVID-19, many national restaurant chains are now at risk of financial trouble. Chains including Outback, Cheesecake Factory, and Applebee’s are a few making the list with the others including Dave & Buster’s, Denny’s, BJ’s, and IHOP. Additionally, California Pizza Kitchen filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The effects to Lakeland’s chains are unknown with IHOP, Outback, Applebee’s, and Denny’s all taking up residence in the area. (The Ledger)
  • A Florida judge denied the state’s request to dismiss the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit related to schools’ reopening plans and their claims of unconstitutional start dates due to COVID. Due to many schools already back in session, the FEA has requested an expedited trial. (FOX 13)
  • On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health announced 8,109 new cases of COVID-19 and 212 additional deaths in Florida. That brings the total number of cases in FL of COVID-19 to 550,901 + the total deaths to 8,765. You can find more updates on the Florida Department of Health dashboardSee Lakeland numbers here. (Wesh 2 News)
  • The Department of Justice has recently shut down 300 fraudulent websites used to exploit COVID-19. The sites claimed to sell hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, however, buyers never received their orders in the mail. Federal officials claim these sites were all a part of an elaborate scam. (Tampa Bay 10
  • Florida will be a part of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Vaccine Pilot Program. Pres. Trump announced back in May the hopes to have 300 million doses of a safe + effective vaccine. (Creative Loafing)
  • The Winter Haven Farmers Market is starting up again on Sept. 12 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and will be held in the parking lot of the BB&T Bank across from Grove Roots Brewing CompanyCOVID-19 precautions will be taken and interested vendors can apply online to be a part of the market.
  • Lakeland’s CARE program is now providing mortgage assistance to select eligible residents. To qualify for the relief program, applicants must be Lakeland residents + have a verifiable loss of income related to COVID-19 impacts, along with other requirements. Applicants should apply directly through Keystone Challenge.
  • Lake Gibson football has shutdown workouts due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The decision ends conditioning workouts and will, at this time, only concern football players. Other sports such as wrestling, basketball, and volleyball will continue conditioning. (The Ledger)
  • Gov. DeSantis spoke yesterday on a morning radio show mentioning that COVID-19 will “loom” over every policy debate and budget during the 2021 legislative session. According to DeSantis, factors like the use of federal stimulus money + the condition of the state’s economic recovery will influence the mapping out of budget priorities for the next fiscal year. The 2021 legislationbeginning in March, will include formulating a fiscal 2021-22 budget, which will begin July 1, 2021(Orlando Sentinel)
  • A study from Frontiers in Psychology finds that healthcare workers in the US are struggling with mental health issues due to the coronavirus pandemic. The research outlines that average healthcare professionals are at a greater risk of experiencing depression than the general public and report enough symptoms to be diagnosed with clinical depression. View our list of local mental health resources here(TechWire)
  • 100+ hand sanitizers have been recalled by the FDA, with many containing methanol or with ingredients not corresponding with the label. Check out the list on the FDA website here(Fox 13 News)
  • A new executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis rescinded certain restaurant employee requirements during the pandemic. Now, employees who have previously tested positive, will not need to receive two negative tests before they can come back to workEmployers are required to implement screening protocols as directed by CDC guidance.
  • How do Lakelanders feel about the City’s continued mask ordinance? The Ledger does a deep-dive into local opinions here(The Ledger)
  • As Lakeland’s mask mandate continues, local businesses, like Black & Brew Coffee House & Bistro share what it means to play the middle-man + ways they de-escalate with customers who disagree with the mandate. (WFLA News Channel 8)
  • COVID-19 precautions are being put into place for the upcoming FL election to protect both poll workers + voters. These regulations include sanitization between voters, social distancing (which could lead to longer lines), reduced points of contact, increased hand sanitizersmaller crowds + mask recommendations. In Polk, voters are being asked to bring their own pen, but the office will also give pens to anyone who needs one. (Bay News 9)
  • According to data published on Tuesday, from a study on which FL counties have the highest COVID-19 deathsMiami-Dade County ranked number one. However, Martin + Manatee County ranks higher in deaths per 100,000 population. Polk County ranked number 11 on the list. (Click Orlando)
  • Lakeland Electric is providing help to customers who are having trouble paying their bills. The municipal-owned utility has offered $1.7 million in payment agreements to aid community members regarding the fiscal impact of COVID-19(The Ledger)
  • Since the coronavirus pandemic’s start, Publix has seen a $2.5 billion increase in sales1,250 stores noted that for the three months leading up to June 27, saw sales of $11.4 billion. This is almost a 22% increase from the same quarter last year. (Fox 35 Orlando)
  • The Florida Department of Health is urging FL residents to answer phone calls from the phone number 833-917-2880, as calls are part of the state’s contact tracing effort. The calls are about potential COVID-19 exposure. If you’ve been exposed, the department will ask about close contacts and will then monitor you and your contacts in hopes of stopping the spread of coronavirus.
  • Construction on Lakeland Regional Health’s Behavioral Health Facility is on a temporary pauseuntil the end of summer. The postponement is due to a lack of previously expected revenue prior to COVID-19. Upon reassessment later this season, a decision will be made on whether to continue the delay or continue as planned. (Lkld Now)
  • Gov. DeSantis is considering allowing individuals to visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities amid the coronavirus. DeSantis mentioned that the use of 15-minute COVID-19 rapid tests could help ensure that visitors are safe + able to see loved ones after the mid-March in-person visit ban(Tampa Bay 10)
  • $290,000 in funding is now available for Polk County nonprofits in an effort to provide relief. The Fund (The United Community Relief Fund) was created by GiveWell Community Foundation and the United Way of Central Florida to aid organizations on the frontlines as well as supporting those impacted by COVID-19. It’s only open to nonprofit organizations addressing the following: childcare/adult assistance, education, food distribution, shelter + emergency needs.
  • Gov. DeSantis approved a $75 million COVID-19 Relief Fund for property owners, renters, and homeowners who have been affected by the coronavirus. The money will be sent to local governments to provide mortgage + rental relief programs. As a part of that fund, Lakeland will receive over $375,000 with Polk County as a whole receiving $2.5 million(Lakeland Chamber Twitter)
  • Local coffee shop Black & Brew Coffee House & Bistro (205 E. Main St.) was recently featured on an NBC News segment, showcasing how the shop and its employees are handling the City’s mask compliance(NBC News)
  • Hospitals in Florida are looking for convalescent plasma from individuals who had COVID-19. This plasma is used as a transfusion and is given to patients who are currently battling Coronavirus, which could help both the immune system + recovery process. (Orlando Sentinel)
  • The US Government has contracted Maryland-based drug company Novavax to expedite the development and production of 100+ million doses of a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. The deal costs $1.6 billion and is expected to result in the vaccine being ready by the beginning of 2021(WRAL)
  • Lakeland Regional Health (LRH) has increased the number of beds in the ICU for COVID-19 patients. With the normal count being 68 beds, the recent surge of coronavirus caused the hospital to fill 76 beds (on Monday), by using several of its “flex” beds. LRH has not had to use more than 86 total ICU beds during the pandemic. If there becomes a need for more beds, the hospital has a floor with 32 beds that can be utilized for intensive care at the Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children. (Lkld Now)
  • Skip the ER waiting room. Lakeland Regional Health is offering Call-Ahead Service in its Main Emergency Department and Children’s Emergency Department. You can call 863.687.1414 to be registered, screened + given an arrival time before you leave your house – providing an added layer of safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. See details. 
  • new public Facebook page called “Lakeland Business – Operation Face Mask” has been started by Lakelander, Heather Jackson. The purpose of the page is to share which businesses in the city require employees + customers to wear face masks.
  • How is hurricane preparedness different this year, due to COVID-19? Polk County Emergency Management Director Paul Womble explains that if hurricanes cause evacuations, shelter workers will have to wear masks, stay socially distant, and have their own temperatures checked. Meal packages may also replace traditional buffet-style catering options. (WFLA News Channel 8)
  • Scientists worry that the new garbage caused by the coronavirus (like masks + rubber gloves) could pollute the world’s oceans. To help solve this issue, the Environmental Protection Agency issued guidance last month for people to keep this PPE outside of recycling binsCheck out what goes in the City of Lakeland’s recycling bins here. (Tampa Bay Times)
  • A first in the country – Florida dogs are being trained to sniff out coronavirus. Trainer Jeff Minder (a former survival instructor for the Air Force) is developing a system for his 50 dogs at Top Tier K9’s training facility in North Florida to sniff out coronavirus in areas where people congregate in big groups – like churches + airports. According to Jeff, “There are independent individual odors within that virus that these dogs are finding. We think we know exactly what part of the virus they are finding, but that’s very hard to prove.” (WFLA News Channel 8)
  • The Lakeland Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the Florida Chamber Foundation on their Florida Prosperity Initiative. Currently, FL has nearly 900,000 children living in poverty – which is more than 20% of all of Florida’s population ~18. This number is likely to increase due to job loss caused by to COVID-19. According to Lakeland Chamber President + CEO, Cory Skeates, “With several of our Lakeland area zip codes designated as ‘economically distressed’ and many residents under the age of 18 currently living in poverty, the Chamber has made it a priority to address the many root causes of poverty such as education, housing, and access to employment.”
  • Feeding Tampa Bay has opened a new “mega pantry” in Lakeland at Lakes Church (1010 E. Memorial Blvd.). The site is located in the back of the church, and will be open every Monday from 4-6:30 p.m., indefinitely. The organization is now feeding 1.7M people in the region, and hopes to serve 1,000 people in one afternoon at the Lakeland church site. The United Way of Central Florida is also distributing food to those in need in Polk County. (WFLA News Channel 8)
  • To report price gouging, call 1.866.966.7226 or file a complaint online here. (WFTS Tampa Bay)

Health Care Resources

  • What to do if you think you’re sick (CDC)
  • CDC Resources
  • World Health Organization Resources
  • Lakeland Regional Health’s Respiratory Care Center is now offering next-day COVID-19 test results. Those with symptoms can schedule an appointment by calling 863-284-5000. Appointments are required.
  • The Peace River Center provides their Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) at 863.519.3744 or 800.627.5906 for 24-hour support to the community for anyone experiencing emotional hardships due to COVID-19. The center also has its Victim Services Crises lines available at 863.413.2700 to assist those in the community who are experiencing domestic disputes and sexual assault.
  • Polk County nursing homes will receive rapid COVID-19 testing systems from the government at 20+ facilities. Polk County was deemed a hot spot” for the virus in July and the federal government found it necessary for rapid testing to be implemented. (The Ledger)
  • Local medical professionals on the Reopen Lakeland Taskforce are sharing updates about the health of the community. In Tuesday’s update, Dr. Steve Achinger of Watson Clinic said that while COVID-19 cases have been declining in the area in recent weeks, flu season is right around the corner + encourages locals to get flu shots.
  • Wondering where to get tested in Lakeland? Check out this roundup of locations from Lakeland Mom. (Lakeland Mom)
  • Tampa Bay Times is sharing stories of Floridians who have lost their lives due to COVID-19. If you’ve lost a loved one, you can fill out this form(Tampa Bay Times)
  • DYK you can help save the lives of COVID-19 patients by donating your plasma? If you have had COVID-19 but have been symptom-free for the last two weeks, your plasma can help save the lives of other patients. Learn more about how you can help others win the fights against the coronavirus disease here.
  • A COVID-19 testing site recently opened to the public on Friday at Disney World. The site was originally allotted for Disney employees + their families, but now opened up an additional line for nearby residents. (WESH 2 News)
  • Looking to get tested? Check out this round up from Lkld Now. The Polk County Health Department is also using part of the $10M CARES Act fund to expand testingspecifically in areas where less than 2% of the population has been tested. Officials are hopeful these new test sites (in Lakeland, Fort Meade, Haines City, Davenport, Poinciana, Frostproof + Dundee) will open mid-July. The Florida Department of Health has a goal of testing 2% of the population each month – which breaks down to 14,000 tests a month in Polk County. (Lkld Now)
  • Our friends at LkldNow are updating five charts on their website with local data, daily. You can find more information on numbers in Lakeland + Polk County here.
  • Peace River Center offers a crisis line for emotional support for those who may be struggling with substance abuse during this time. Call 863.519.3744 for immediate assistance.
  • The Florida Department of Health in Polk has set up a call center: 863.519.7911, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • DYK The Florida Department of Health in Polk County provides coronavirus updates on NextDoor? According to this post (FYI, you’ll need a NextDoor account to see it), Nextdoor neighborhood conversation will remain private to you + your neighbors and the Florida Department of Health will only be able to see messages + replies directed to them.
  • The Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard breaks down coronavirus cases by zip code, as well as the county. To find a case by a  ZIPcode, check the “cases by ZIP code” tab, at the bottom of the page. The data uses a person’s home address for reporting, though it may also represent the hospital a person was tested at.
  • Have you received a call from an unknown number, saying that you may have been exposed to the coronavirus? Polk County Department of Health’s 14-person team of contact tracers (comprised of epidemiologists, medical experts, local hospital staff + schooling nurses) is tasked with cutting off the spread of the coronavirus in the community. Part of the tracking process they use involves making cold calls to people who may have come in contact with someone with COVID-19. If you receive a call from someone saying they are a health reporter, you can contact Polk’s COVID-19 hotline at 863.519.7911 to confirm. (The Ledger)
  • Lakeland Regional Health is answering FAQs about COVID-19 here.
  • Lakeland Regional Health is screening visitors to their Emergency Department, Surgical Intensive Care Unit, Trauma Intensive Care Unit, and Medical Intensive Care Unit.
  • Polk County Public School is providing meals to students in need.

Educational Resources

  •  Teachers, paraeducators, non-classroom instructors, and bus drivers are experiencing an increase in responsibility due to COVID-19. Teachers with blended classes are on “double duty” and are tasked with the challenge of teaching students and grading their work, both in-person and online. Additionally, bus drivers are inside schools distributing lunches and taking care of administrative work for teachers, all while having to complete their daily routes and re-cleaning procedures. The Polk Education Association and the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees are pushing to increase the pay for Polk’s educators, paraeducators, and non-classroom instructors. (The Ledger)
  • Many Polk County teachers + staff are working longer hours during COVID-19, prompting Stephanie YocumPolk Education Association President, to push for raises for non-classroom instructors and paraeducators. The goal is currently to get them to $10, but to then push for $15. Back in June, Gov. DeSantis signed a law that increased first-year teachers’ salaries to $47,500(The Ledger)
  • Confusion among students and teachers concerning FSA testing occurred after Polk County Public Schools instructed high school juniors to take the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) last week on subjects they failed in the 9th and 10th grades. Polk County distributed letters to students two-weeks ago requiring them to take the assessment on specific subjects, but some students and teachers believed juniors were exempt as the state cancelled testing in the spring due to COVID-19. Polk County Public Schools spokesman Jason Geary stated that FSA testing is required for “currently enrolled students” and can be postponed to the spring or senior year + the cancellation only applied to last spring’s graduating seniors. (The Ledger)
  • The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Polk County Public Schools has reached 119. 10 new cases have been confirmed at six school campuses including three at Lake Alfred Elementary, two at  Winter Haven High + Highlands Grove Elementary, and one case at Bartow Elementary, Sandhill Elementary and, Lakeland Highlands Middle, respectively. (The Ledger)
  • The Reopen Lakeland Task Force launched an “Adopt a School” program in an effort to better protect children from COVID-19. The program launched Friday and is projected to raise funds + proper “healthcare items” for Lakeland public school use. Ideally, the Task Force will raise $5,000 per school, with additional funding for larger schools such as highschools. (The Ledger)
  • In an attempt to protect students from COVID-19, Warner University has implemented a “bubble approach” to keep students healthy. The university aims to limit students’ access to the outside world as much as possible, as six students have already tested positive for the virus three weeks after classes commenced. (The Ledger)
  • A “quarantine mixup” occurred within Polk County Public Schools where two students, who were to be quarantined, were sent to a Bartow daycare. The daycare owner is trying to obtain more details as to why these students were allowed to board the bus + attend school ˆone student from Spessard Holland Elementary +another from Floral Avenue Elementary. Both students were directed to quarantine for 14-days by their schools due to exposure to COVID-19, however, instead of being sent home, they were sent to daycare. (WFLA News Channel 8)
  • Lakeland Senior High School is scheduled to suspend football for two-weeks and in doing so, will cancel the first two games for the 2020 season due to a positive case of COVID-19. (The Ledger)
  • Polk County school district officials + the Florida Department of Health are working together to “cast a wide net” in regards to students + staff quarantining. The goal is to cease secondary transmission of COVID-19 in schools across the county. Superintendent Byrd hopes this “net” will provide more certainty to stopping the spread of the virus from infected persons. (The Ledger)
  •  Polk County Public Schools’ (PCPS) district has seen a drop in enrollment, from last school year, by 7,500+ students, attributed to the students switching to private schools or at-home learning. This decline could lead to a significant decrease in federal funding (think millions), as FL funds districts based on enrollment numbersTo prevent this, PCPS may need to see an increase in students + the Florida Legislature would need to continue the stop-gapput in place by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. (The Ledger)
  • As Polk County Public Schools kicks off the 2020-2021 sports seasonnew safety procedures have been announced. Some of these include mask-wearing, limited attendance, and limited concession sales. Check out the full list of procedures here. (WFLA News Channel 8)
  • Last week, Polk County Public Schools changed its policy to allow teachers who have been exposed to COVID-19 to still come to schools (or self-quarantine). This stands as long as they are asymptomatic + take additional precautions, such as monitoring their temperatures + having their work areas cleaned more often. If a teacher lives with someone that tests positive, they still have to self-quarantine(WFLA News Channel 8)
  • Polk County parents, teachers, and staff are expressing concerns over COVID-19 cases in schools. Some teachers and staff claim that there have been changes in the rules regarding quarantine standards and are concerned by the non-compliance of the mask enforcement by students. (The Ledger)
  • Gov. Ron Desantis signed an executive order, extending the Bright Futures Scholarship deadline to Dec. 1 for students graduating in the 2019-2020 school year. The executive order is aimed to help students reach their college and university goals during this period of economic recovery + give students more time to achieve higher scores or attain a minimum qualifying score.
  • The Florida Education Association has published a reopening report, with fact-based information, surrounding the reopening of school campuses across FL. The report will continue to be updated on Tuesdays + Fridays and shows stats on the number of school-aged children who have tested positive for COVID-19, the confirmed number of classroom closings, and the number of FL educators who have died due to the virus. Thank you Reader Jamie J. for sharing this tool with us.
  • The Florida Department of Education reported that all 74 brick and mortar school districts are now operational with a form of in-person instruction.
  • Two asymptomatic Polk County students – that were awaiting COVID-19 test results – attended their corresponding schools (Haines City’s Boone Middle School + Bartow High’s Summerlin Academy), earlier this week. Both students tested positiveprompting Superintendent Byrd to remind parents + students to be honest about circumstances, as the schools will make learning style adjustments as needed. (The Ledger)
  •  Four more COVID-19 cases were reported at Polk County Public schools last week, including Chain of Lakes Elementary School and Denison Middle School. Parents at the schools were notified and it is unclear if the positive cases were of ill staff or students. (The Ledger)
  • Upon reopening, Polk County Public School Boone Middle School (in Haines City) reported a COVID-19 positive case. In response, the district notified parents, and students + staff are taking additional safety precautions(The Ledger)
  • The Polk County school district has not yet reached a decision regarding COVID-19 waiver requirements for its athletes. Practice is scheduled to begin Aug. 26but even without a solidified decision, Polk County athletic director Dan Talbot feels secure in allowing practices without the waivers. Dan has cited that according to the FHSAA waivers are recommended but not required + they do not protect individuals from negligence. (The Ledger)
  • Parents are finding the need to switch from online learning to in-person and visa versa. The parameters surrounding this change varies by county with Polk suggesting that families finish the first week before making any decisions + encouraging students to stick with their original choice at least through the first 9-weeks. If extenuating circumstances arise, the county will take requests on a case-by-case basis(Tampa Bay 10)
  • Yesterday, a Tallahassee-based judge sided with the Florida Education Association in regards to Florida schools reopening in person. The union claimed that the state mandate to reopen schools during a pandemic was unconstitutional. At this time, the decision rests within the local school boards + no current changes have been made to PCPS. We reached out and are awaiting a statement. (Click Orlando)
  • Just weeks after reopening for the school year, McKeel Academy has confirmed that one teacher has tested positive for COVID-19. That teacher is currently home, quarantining + McKeel is sanitizing and cleaning all of their campuses daily. At this time, all three of the school’s campuses will remain open + operational. (The Ledger)
  • With some Florida schools already open + others on their way to reopening, schools have begun streamlining lunches as a COVID-19 precaution. Cafeterias are calling for enhanced cleaning procedures, grab + go meals and social distancing. Click here to see Polk’s plan. (Bay News 9)
  •  Polk State Kids at College was a hit this year, despite going virtual due to COVID-19. The launch of Kids at College: Online! and Kids at College: Facebook allowed students to remain engaged + still have something to look forward to over the summer. Plus, due to the virtual nature of the online programs, students across the state and beyond Florida were able to participate.
  • Polk State College has experienced a significant decrease in in-person attendance under the Phase II plan due to remote + hybrid instruction. The two main buildings in both the Winter Haven and Lakeland campuses are open to visitors and students, but libraries, cafeterias, and student centers are closed. While Polk State relies on self-monitoring to prevent the spread of COVID-19, additional screening has been implemented including temperature scans(The Ledger)
  • Polk County Public School high schools will begin athletic practices on Aug. 26, with games beginning the week of Sept. 7. The first football game is scheduled to occur on Sept. 11. Additionally, Lake Wales High School (Lake Wales is a charter school district) is slated to begin practices on Aug. 26 as well, following suit with Polk County. (The Ledger)
  • Last week, Florida Southern College announced the limited campus presence students would be allowed to have, just weeks before move-in. Now, students have responded + one student has created a petition with over 1,400 signatures. The petition’s goal is to reach 1,500 signatures with the intent to reverse the decision to limit students on campus. (The Ledger)
  • With some already back to school, and others on the way, Polk County Public Schools released their plan for temperature screening students. These checks are in conjunction with the FDOH’s plans to check at least 20% of the student body everyday. The reasoning for 20% is due to a more manageable outcome, especially at larger schools. High-schoolers will receive infrared wrist scanners. For abnormal temperatures, students will be evaluated by the nurse. (Tampa Bay 10)
  • The FHSAA met Friday to discuss the return of sports this school year and how to go about these practices during COVID. The Board voted 11-5 to to start school sports on Aug. 24 for all fall sports, including football. (Bay News 9)
  • On Tuesday evening, statements made by SEC + ACC officials made it clear that both conferences were planning to move forward with football this fall, following Big 10 + Pac-12’s decisions to cancel their fall seasons due to COVID-19 concernsSee SEC statement here + ACC statement here.
  • Gov. DeSantis and FL Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran visited a charter school in Hillsborough County after the school board went against the reopening order Gov. DeSantis put into place. During the visit, DeSantis reiterated the idea that if charter schools in the county can offer in-person classes, so should the rest of the district schools(Tampa Bay Times)
  • As Polk County schools are getting ready to open for the fall, lunchrooms will begin to put new COVID-19 procedures in motion. To practice safety precautions, there will be designated exits and entrances into the lunchroom, social distance seating, food being wrapped or covered with a lid, using disposable utensils + sanitizing high-touch areas between meal services. (WFTS Tampa Bay)
  • Florida Southern College President Anne Kerr announced an update for the fall 2020 semester. The college will be limiting the number of students on campus due to COVID-19. These changes include converting double occupancy rooms to single rooms + allowing only certain student groups to live on campus during the fall semester. According to the college, the plan mirrors other universities including Harvard, Yale + Duke. More details about the fall semester will be shared by the college this week.
  • Aug. 24 is the official date Polk County Public Schools students will return to either online or in-person learning. According to Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd, this is due to a downward trend in infection rates. Dr. Joy Jackson – the director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County – is continuing to work with the school board on additional precautions. Dr. Jackson shared that while positive case numbers drop10% of people on average report positivity rateshospital numbers are stabilizing, and deaths are increasing in elderly patients. (The Ledger)
  • Gov. DeSantis is pushing for schools to reopen this fall, with state leaders requiring approval from the Health Department if school boards want to keep schools closedHowever, health directors were told not to give the approval, stating that the role of the directors was to give information instead of recommendations. (The Ledger)
  • A recent study by Polk County Public Schools has taken data on the topic of returning to school in the fall. The study shows that 45.2% of students will be attending school face-to-face46.1% will be participating in Campus eSchool + 8.6% will be a part of Polk Virtual. When it comes to teachers, 39% prefer face-to-face assignments, 28.6% would go for Campus eSchool assignments, 4.4% would rather do Polk Virtual assignments + 28% are equally comfortable with face-to-face, eCampus + Polk Virtual options. (The Ledger)
  • ICYMI, a video about what schools could look like in Florida, once reopened, recently went viral for its “dystopian” look. The School District of Manatee County posted the video, showing clips of teachers wearing lab coats, masks + other protective equipment, along with lunchtime sessions for children, who are seated at spaced-out tables.
  • Voluntary Preschool, governed by the Florida Office of Learning, is currently not offering a virtual option for parents for this upcoming fall school year. Because of this, there is shown to be a 20% decrease in registration + enrollments from the same time last year in the Tampa Bay area. (News Channel 8)
  • Officials from the University of Florida are wondering if the campus would be able to open safely this fall after the school ranking among the top for COVID-19 cases. Cases at the school are now at 300 with the tentative official start date of Aug. 31. Other schools reaching high numbers include the University of Central Florida reaching 438 cases and the University of South Florida with 182(The Ledger)
  • Izaak Davis, a Haines City High School 2020 graduatewrote a rap about the problems that students faced due to going to school during the COVID-19 pandemic. The song highlights inspiration + encouragement for fellow 2020 high school graduates and was shared on Davis’ alma mater’s website(Bay News 9)
  • With the school year quickly approaching (tentatively) on August 24, it’s time to check your child’s shot records. Children entering kindergarten must have all recommended doses of measles, mumps, and rubella. As children level up, their shot requirements change. Additionally, students entering Polk County Public Schools in later grades will need to show their vaccination recordsPlease note that due to COVID-19, scheduling appointments is more difficult. (News Chief)
  • The topic of the coronavirus can be a scary subject for children and one that is tough to navigate for parents. A Polk County teacher saw this struggle + wrote a children’s book explaining the virus called “C is for Coronavirus.” The book is intended for parents to communicate the changes families are experiencing due to the pandemic. (WFTS Tampa Bay)
  • Florida Southern Alum and photographer Glenn Clark moved to New Jersey seven years ago, where he decided to reinvent the way he photographs, gravitating towards people + faces. Now, he’s giving back by telling tales of the coronavirus and those that work on the frontline in Chatham, NJ.
  • Over 6,000 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to roughly 270 colleges in the U.S. The schools with the top cases include University of FloridaUniversity of Central FloridaUniversity of South Florida(New York Times)
  • Tuesday afternoon, Polk County School Board members voted “yes” to adding face masks to the schools’ dress code. Students grades K-12 must wear masks during in-person classes when they resume on Aug. 24Grace will be extended for grades K-1 throughout the first nine weeksOlder students are expected to follow the mask guidelines with different disciplinary actions taken against them should they not comply. (News Chief)
  • Polk County is implementing safety measures and precautions on school buses ahead of the official back to school date. Certain features include: temperature checks on bus drivers before each shift, masks for driver and students, two students per seat, sanitizer on the stairwells, loading from rear to front, regular bus cleaning, and the opening of certain windows/hatches to allow for fresh air. (Bay News 9)
  • The CDC has released its position on reopening schools. Under the guidelines, the CDC suggests that schools implement directives on how to minimize transmission spread, how schools should share the news if there are positive cases, and what to do if transmission levels can’t be decreased. (WFTS Tampa Bay)
  • In a recent address to the state, Gov. DeSantis shared that families + teachers can choose whether or not they would be returning to the classroom in Aug. He said that Florida’s school districts should have the option to delay school starting by a “few weeks.” Read the full story here(The Ledger)
  • The Orlando Law Group is offering free living wills for teachers. By filling out a form via an iHeartRadio account + submitting it to the law group, consent is given for the law group to contact the individual and complete the document. When contacted, a current staff school ID + last paycheck stub in 2020 will be required. (iHeartRadio)
  • Some substitute teachers have shared that they are worried about going back to school to teach for the upcoming school year during COVID-19. Cheryl Courier with Kelly Servicesthe largest provider of specialized educational staffing solutions in the U.S. + located in Orlandohired between 100 + 200 teachers weekly for Hillsborough County Schools last year, without the effects of COVID-19. Even though a decrease in the amount of full-time teachers is probable, those facing unemployment can apply for a substitute teacher position and potentially get back into the workforce for a part time position. (News Channel 8)
  • Polk County Public Schools (PCPS) will resume in AugustDistance learning will be available for parents who do not want their children to return to campus. This decision comes after PCPS issued a survey, asking community members, parents, staff, teachers, and others, their thoughts on schools resuming in the fall. According to the survey, out of the 37,000+ respondents38% felt comfortable with students returning to school in August, while 34% felt uncomfortable about students returning to school in August. An additional 18% said they felt that students should return after Labor Day, and 10% said they didn’t know(The Ledger)
  • The George Jenkins Foundation recently gifted $20,000 to the United Way of Central Florida to aid homeless students of the Polk County Public Schools. The donation was used to purchase things like tabletschargers + gift cards for groceries and clothes, and was delivered by Ben Ruch, the coordinator of The Hearth Project.
  • The Florida Department of Education announced that public and charter schools will physically reopen in August for at least five days per week. Polk County Public Schools (PCPS) has reviewed this state order + determined that the viable options developed by PCPS for the 2020-21 school year include both in-person + virtual learning options for students. The Polk County Public Schools task force will be meeting today to talk about the 2020-21 school year, as well as additional planning that will need to take place before the summer is over. Topics that will be discussed are Campus LearningCampus eSchool + Polk Virtual School(Polk County Public Schools)
  • Officials are offering guidance for when + how to resume sports at the high school, college, and club level. Currently 150+ collegiate athletes in the US have tested positive for COVID-19. Current models show that the virus could infect 20% of athletes with a fatality rate of nearly 1%, this means 1.7 million athletes could be infected + 16,000 could die. Officials are recommending that before each game/match athletes + coaches be tested, everyone use their own water bottles, and that everyone should use face coverings. (The Ledger)
  • Southeastern University Professor Physician’s Assistant, Megan Wagner, is giving back by heading to Arizona through Samaritan’s Purse. The SEU professor will be working with the Navajo Nation – a location that has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in the US. (Bay News 9)
  • $14M+. The amount Polk County colleges have received through the federal CARES Act.  The $2T package passed by congress allotted $14B in emergency funding for colleges across the US. Funding is based on student enrollment + the act requires that 50% of the money go to students. Local colleges to receive funding include Polk State College ($6.1M), Southeastern University ($4.8M), Florida Southern College ($2.2M), Florida Polytechnic University ($1.3M) + Warner University ($1.1M). Read more here to see what the colleges are planning to do with the money. (The Ledger)

Travel + Tourism Resources

  • Walt Disney World is bringing back a popular experience for guests at Hollywood Studios. Savi’s Workshop, aka, the spot to build your own lightsaber, will reopen on Sept. 20 and will begin accepting reservations on Sept. 16. The shop closed due to COVID-19 and upon its reopening, new protocols will be in place including physical distancing + a limited capacity. (Bay News 9)
  • Visit Florida has released its first marketing campaign encouraging in-state travel since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign is an effort by Gov. Ron DeSantis + Visit Florida President Dana Young to restore the state’s economy which is heavily reliant on the tourism, travel, and hospitality industries. (Fox 13)
  •  Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will be bringing back their Bier Fest at a limited capacity on Sept. 12 + every Saturday and Sunday until Nov. 15. The event will feature 16 food and beverage cabins, beer-inspired dishes, local craft brews, select wines + cocktails. Sampler lanyards will be available for purchase for $32.99 and the festival will also be available during the separate Howl-O-Scream event(Bay News 9)
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis is encouraging tourists to visit Florida via commercial flights. In an airline travel meeting, the governor said that he was not aware of any airline passengers that have contracted the virus on an airplane + notes that the industry is essential to the economic stability of the state. Florida’s economy relies heavily on travel + tourism and the state has experienced a decrease of 15 million travelers from March-June, compared to the same period last year. (Click Orlando)
  • SeaWorld Orlando + Aquatica will be reinstating its seven-days per-week operating schedule while still requiring date-specific reservations for all guests – including annual passholders. The new schedule will last until Oct. 5 and attractions will continue to operate at a limited capacity. COVID-19 related safety measures – including face coverings and temperature checks – continue to be implemented. (Orlando Sentinel)
  • Earlier this month Walt Disney World filed permits for the Project Nugget development plan. Disney is known for its project code names, and the new permits indicate the company’s plans for its 50th-anniversary. Instead of kicking off the 50th anniversary in early 2021, Disney is looking to push the festivities back to October 1 – the actual anniversary date – lasting for a span of 15 months + ending in late 2022. Click here for the full insider scoop. (Orlando Weekly)
  • With most local theme parks reopened, many have begun little expansions + developments. To name a few, SeaWorld Orlando expanded its Electric Ocean Remix to Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Discovery Cove has revived its Shark Swim activities. Halloween Horror Nights merch is now available. Disney Cast Members will be receiving new masks from corporate + guests staying at Disney resorts can watch fireworks virtually. Finally, the Kennedy Space Center has added an additional three-day virtual camp KSC3-day virtual camp KSC(Orlando Sentinel)
  • With Disney World reducing park hours starting in September, Epcot After 4 passholders will have access to altered admission times due to the reduced hours. Instead of entering the parks at 4 p.m., those passholders may enter at 2 p.m. (Bay News 9)
  • While Walt Disney World’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party + Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights have been cancelled, Busch Gardens has announced that Howl-O-Scream is still happening this year. The 21-year-old event spans Sept. 25 to Nov. 1 + will be modified this year with extra safety precautions, “open-air zones,” and reduced capacityVirtual auditions are open to scare actors who wish to participate. (Bay News 9)
  • Walt Disney World will significantly reduce park hours starting Sept.8. Each of the four operating parks will close earlier than normal by at least an hour + some parks will close two hours earlier. Disney Springs’ hours will remain unchanged(Bay News 9)
  • Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, and SeaWorld have seen a sharp decline in attendance since reopening due to the coronavirus. The drop sits at 96% in terms of attendance + revenue during 2020’s second quarter(Tampa Bay Times)
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order rescinding quarantine travel rules for travelers entering Florida from New YorkNew Jersey Connecticut. These travel restrictions had previously been in place since March(Tampa Bay 10 News)
  • SeaWorld has expanded its park operating hours. Originally only open five days a week on Mon., Wed. + Fri.– Sun., visits will now include Thursdays through Sept. 6. Guests will need to make a reservation before entering the park and COVID-19 precautions are still in place such as temperature checks + face-covering requirements. (Click Orlando)
  • Universal has reduced operating hours for its theme parks for the month of Aug. Previously operating from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. for both parks, the new hours for Universal Orlando Resort will be changed to 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Islands of Adventure will be changed to 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The hours for Universal CityWalk will stay the same(Bay News 9)
  • At this time, no current COVID-19 outbreaks have been directly linked back to a Florida theme park. While there have been isolated cases that mention the parks, there have been no reported outbreaks. Orange County Health Officer, Dr. Raul Pino has praised the parks and has been so far impressed with their compliance. (Bay News 9)
  • Walt Disney World has officially banned masks featuring any type of “valve.” Their site explicitly states this new rule including other mask restrictions“neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes.” Should you have an upcoming trip or visit planned, be sure to refer to Disney’s website for further details or any updates. (Click Orlando)
  • All Southwest passengers over the age of two must wear a face mask while flying. Passengers may take off their mask to drinkeat, or take medicine, but the airline urges those instances to be done as quickly as possible and to put on a mask immediately after. The company said that there will be no exemptions to the requirement and customers must wear a mask both onboard the aircraft + in the airport(Click Orlando)
  • On Tuesday, Legoland announced their new mask policy as now enforced by the City of Winter Haven. Moving forward, face masks/coverings must be worn by all park guests 8 years or older on all theme park rides or in any indoor space at Legoland Resort. Complimentary masks will still be available on property if guests do not bring their own.
  • Universal Orlando updated its face mask policy regarding a “loophole” in the policy. According to the theme park, visitors were walking around without masks in the park while eating and drinking, so the company cleared up the policy by saying that guests must wear masks at all times unless they are actively drinking and eating, which can only happen in socially distanced situations(Orlando Weekly)
  • With the recent reopening of Disney World, many new rules + amendments have been introduced. One of those new rules has to do with eating/drinking and walking. Certain guests have been attempting to find a “loophole” in the mask mandate at the parks by eating/drinking while walking. In a recent update from Disney, guests must eat and drink while stationary(Tampa Bay Times)
  • Yesterday, the Bahamas placed a travel ban for US tourists traveling to the Bahamian Islands. The official ban takes effect tomorrow + for the time being just affects US tourists. Those traveling from the UK, EU, or Canada must reflect negative tests for COVID-19 within 10 days of arrival. (WESH 2 News)
  • Are snowbirds planning to travel back to FL amidst the coronavirus pandemic? Mary Philippone (from Greece) shares that she still plans to head to Lakeland for a vacation in the winter. According to Mary, “ “If I have to be isolated here and in my house, at least down there I can go out for a walk in the morning or in the evening. I can be in the sunshine and warm weather. I can do the same thing down there as I can do here but have better weather.” (13 Wham)
  • The Tampa International Airport is conducting a survey about traveling habits before, during, and after COVID-19. The survey is only 3 questions long + takes 2 minutes to fill out. Fill out the survey here + be entered for a chance to win a branded TPA mask.
  • The European Union has reopened its borders to travelers from 14 nations such as CanadaJapan + Thailand, but still has a travel ban on tourists from the United States. The ban is in place for at least another two weeks due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the US. Other countries temporarily denied access include RussiaBrazil + India. (Fox 35 Orlando)

Business + Employment Resources

  • Is your Reemployment Assistance claim labeled as “Not Registered”? Complete your application for Reemployment Assistance benefits here + learn more about your benefit claim here.
  • Hundreds of Floridians are still facing unemployment + at this time, funding is unable to come through Pres. Trump’s executive order. In the meantime, Gov. Desantis is searching for another route to take to ensure Floridians get the money they need during their unemployment. Currently, a loan is being considered as the next step. (Bay News 9)
  • Stein Mart has filed for bankruptcy and may have to close their stores nationwide due to a changing retail landscape and the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a location in Merchants Walk shopping plaza (3615 S Florida Ave), but there is no word yet on whether that store will close. The franchise has 281 stores nationwide across 30 states but will continue operating while still selling their eCommerce store(Fox 13)
  • The Winter Haven City Commission proposed a $140.5 million municipal budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year with the hopes for a quick economic recovery from COVID-19. This budget would go into place on Oct. 1 and, if approved, would display a 7.3% increase from the current Winter Haven municipal budget which is $130.9 million. Some commissioners showed support of the proposal, and the first public hearing and vote is on Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. with the second public hearing and final vote on Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. (The Ledger)
  • The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is warning people to not claim unemployment checks they may have received after returning to work and to send back any checks received past the dates they’ve gone back to work. (Click Orlando)
  • Jobless Floridians who have filed for benefits will receive retroactive unemployment pay. This means that residents who lost their jobs March 9 (or later) will receive benefits on the date they were laid off not the date that an application was filed. Additionally, self-employed, gig workers + independent contractors can also apply for federal benefits. (Florida Politics)
  • The application process for Polk Cares 2020 is now open. Polk County residents + small businesses who have experienced income-related losses due to COVID-19 may now apply for financial assistance. Funds are only available to those who have not already received pandemic-related assistance. (WFLA News Channel 8)
  • New applicants filing for unemployment benefits are recommended to prepare these essential documents before applying in the state of FL.

Community Resources

  • You can share your thoughts about the City of Lakeland’s mask mandate during the City Commission meeting. To re-read the mandate, click here.
  • A second round of COVID funding for nonprofits was granted by the United Community Relief Fund for Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties. It will benefit 33 nonprofits with $600,000 in funding granted since March.
  • The Florida Department of Health + Polk County Public Schools have worked together to create a new online resource to help keep the community informed about confirmed coronavirus cases.
  • The Polk Unites COVID-19 Relief for Polk County Residents was announced by Central Florida Healthcare as assistance for individuals who have been financially affected by COVID-19. The eligibility requirements for up to $2,000 in assistance include: having a reduction in income or experienced job loss due to the coronavirus, having not already received additional federal or county COVID-19 assistance + being a Polk County resident with a valid FL ID or driver’s license. Assistance includes help for billstangible resources + Publix gift cards. To make an appointment fill out an application and call 866-234-8534.
  • Calling all parents + caregivers. From downloadable resources and online courses + webinars to a free course on “How to Survive Distance Learning,” WonderHerea local learn + play studio for kids – offers coronavirus homebound support on their website.
  • Small businesses + residents in need of assistance after coronavirus-related financial challenges can apply to Polk CARES. The funding comes from the federal government + applications are available online. (Central Florida Development Council)
  • If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s how resilient Lakeland is, and how we’re finding new ways of doing businessCatapult chatted with its members about 3 attitudes entrepreneurs need to guide them through a crisis. 
  • Lakeland Chamber of Commerce created this chart for those who have lost their job during COVID-19, illustrating various scenarios with correlating resources available. Check out their job posting page as well for employment opportunities around the area.
  • The Early Learning Coalition of Polk County is offering a program for covering child-care costs to first-responders + healthcare workers. Applicants are able to receive up to three months of cost-free child care, regardless of income. Click here for details on how to apply.
  • The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) released an online dashboard where daily updates of unemployment benefits payments can be tracked. (WKMG News 6)
  • The Keystone Challenge Fund will be providing foreclosure counseling for those in need. Residents can call 863-682-1025 to schedule an appointment. This follows an executive order, filed by Gov. DeSantis, to prevent foreclosure and eviction due to nonpayment for 45 days (this began on April 2). Mortgage and rent payments are not waived + will still be owed, according to contracts.
  • Lakeland Mom rounded up a list of Mobile Food Pantries in Polk County – Lakeland, Winter Haven, Mulberry, Auburndale, Bartow & more for those in need of assistance. Note: Make sure to check directly with the food pantry before traveling to one, as the schedules of some food pantries can change during this time. (Lakeland Mom)
  • The Florida Eviction Protection website assists renters in staying informed on federal, state, and local changes to eviction policies + search for legal aid.
  • Lakeland native Kaitlyn Kelley, and her classmates at Dartmouth College, launched GiveEssential.org to help those on the “hidden frontline” of the COVID-19 fight. This includes grocery store employees, bus drivers, food delivery workers, and others that put their health at risk to help people. (Bay News 9)
  • If you’re struggling with social distancing from friends + loved ones, this list of virtual communication ideas might be helpful.
  • Save + share this page of local resources for small businesses, curated by Catapult. Have more ideas on how to help our community as a whole?
  • The Red Cross is urging healthy individuals to donate blood. See this list of blood banks in Lakeland to donate.
  • The Ledger and The Tampa Bay Times newspapers have lifted their paywalls for important COVID-19 coverage.
  • #SupportLkld. Search or use #SupportLkld on Instagram to share + stay up-to-date on the latest information regarding small businesses + Lakeland citizen support. (The Lakelander)
  • Floridians seeking employment can visit the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity website for assistance.
  • Anchors in the Storma 2,000+ member Facebook group created by Lakelander Tracey Dannemiller – works to help those in the community with a need (washing machines, clothes donation, food, etc.) + shares opportunities for those who can offer assistance. Tracey’s nine-year-old granddaughter came up with an idea to create a Facebook page, after Tracey walked her block, giving out toilet paper. (WFTS Tampa Bay)

Schedule Changes

  • City of Lakeland
  • College and professional sporting events (CBS Sports)
  • Florida  colleges and universities (WTXL)
  • Local events (Lkld Now)
  • For Kids + families
  • Lakeland businesses
  • Lakeland Electric
  • Polk County Public Schools
  •  The Crickette Club of Bartow’s Halloween Parade is officially cancelled this year. The news came Wednesday afternoon in a Facebook message from the club to LALtoday.
  • Lakeland Restaurant Week has been rescheduled to Jan. 25-31 2021, due to COVID-19 concerns. Restaurants with lower cost menus are also able to join next year’s event by offering a $20, three-course prix fixe menu. More information – including which restaurants will be at the event – will be shared in the coming weeks. Stay up-to-date at www.LakelandRestaurantWeek.com.
  • While Halloween Horror Nights was canceled this year due to COVID-19, the Halloween fun at Universal Orlando will not be totally removed. This week, the theme park announced that two haunted houses will open during regular operating hours this coming weekend. Guests can visit Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives + Revenge of the Tooth Fairy on Sept. 19 and 20. Haunted House goers must follow Universal’s COVID-safety rules, including wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and abiding by the limited capacity. Universal has yet to announce whether or not these houses will be available past this Sunday. (Bay News 9)
  • The 2020 Havendale Christmas Parade has been cancelled due to COVID-19. The parade is usually held yearly on the first Friday of December + is an initiative between the City of Winter Haven and the City of Auburndale.
  • Walt Disney World announced the cancellation of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and  Epcot’s Candlelight Processional. Alternative holiday experiences have been announced at all of its parks starting Nov. 6 through Dec. 30. (Bay News 9)
  • EDC Orlando was officially canceled on Friday due to COVID-19 concerns. The event is slated to take place next year as the 10th annual Electric Daisy Carnival. It was originally scheduled to occur mid-November(Click Orlando)
  • Yesterday afternoon, the City of Lakeland announced the cancellation of The Lakeland Christmas Parade due to COVID-19 concerns. The decision was unanimous amongst city officials, Junior League members, and the organizers of the parade.
  •  Universal’s Volcano Bay water park will be closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting Sept. 8. Universal cited “operational needs and fall travel trends” due to COVID-19 as the reason for the closure. (Bay News 9)
  • Cirque du Soleil’s Drawn to Life has been delayed at Disney Springs due to COVID-19. Originally slated to open back in April, the show is now on pause indefinitely, with no opening date announced. At this time, shows scheduled for Nov. through Jan. were removed from the online calendar. (Bay News 9)
  •  Ominous Descent will no longer be an attraction at Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail this season and in the future, due to the impact of COVID-19Three haunted trails will still operate at Sir Henry’s for the 2020 season and beyond. Click here to find Sir Henry’s updated seasonal offerings.
  • Chick-fil-A has postponed their annual Cow Appreciation Day due to COVID-19. However, in light of the pandemic, the restaurant has added more safety measures for their customers and employees. These include handwashing stationsplexiglass shields + stopping the use of self-serve condiments and beverages(Business Insider)
  • The Miss America Organization announced that both its competition + the Miss Florida competition have been postponed. Miss Florida is being postponed until June 2021, and current titleholders will maintain their titles. This means that Miss Florida, Michaela McLean, will keep her current title until the next competition takes place.
  • Carnival Cruise Line has canceled all sailings until October 2020. Yesterday, the cruise line announced extending their pause in services + cruise cancellations through Sept. 30. Those who have already booked trips + will be impacted by these changes should have received an email from Carnival or the travel advisor they booked through to reschedule or receive a refund. (FOX 35 Orlando)
  • Walt Disney World’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2020 has been cancelledGuests who have already purchased tickets will be assisted with refunds in the coming weeks. (My News 13)
  • The Lakeland Piano Festival has been postponed with new dates to come.
  • The deadline to get a Real ID has been postponed because of coronavirus concerns and the danger of overcrowding at DMVs. The ID will eventually be required to board domestic flights.
  • The Polk County School Board’s in-person meeting originally scheduled on June 30 – has been postponed due to the rise in coronavirus cases. The purpose of the meeting was to allow for public input on the retirement of Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd + a search for her replacement. (The Ledger)
    • Beach reopenings here.
  • Polk Pride has cancelled all pride events for the rest of the year + is planning to resume events in 2021.

Community Conversations