Our nation, and the world, are now dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic. As mayor, my concerns extend beyond making sure that my mom and my in-laws are being appropriately cared for in their respective care centers. Both centers have now banned visitors until the current crisis eases. Our local hospitals are now restricting visitors as well and quite a few places where large crowds visit have been closed. Sporting events and even Walt Disney World are included in these closures. Things have evolved rapidly over the course of the last week. The number of cases in Florida have spiked and both the governor and the Pasco County Commission have declared states of emergency.
Our city staff have been watching the situation closely. Our next big public event, the Chasco Fiesta, was scheduled to start in just a couple of weeks. Because of the tens of thousands of people expected to attend the parade and concerts, it became apparent that the risks simply out weighed other considerations and the City Manager ordered the postponement of Chasco this past Friday. I fully support her decision. I look forward to the Chasco folks coming up with a date to reschedule the event for later this year.
The city council will be meeting this coming Wednesday, March 18th, and considering a formal ban on large public events. The CDC’s latest guidance, as of Sunday, is to postpone or cancel events with over 50 people for the next 8 weeks. This would include the Loquat Festival (now cancelled), the next movie night in the park, and the next free concert in the park.
I started writing this on Sunday morning when I would normally be at church. Our church service was cancelled because of the potential risk to the older members of our congregation. My church was not the only local church to call off services.
My educational background includes an MBA in Health and Hospital Administration. I worked as a health care administrator throughout the 80’s and as a health planner during most of the 90’s. I am currently the Chairman of the Board of the Suncoast Health Council, the health planning agency for Pasco and Pinellas Counties. Based on my background and my conversations with others who have been active in the public health arena, I am concerned with the outbreak, but I am not panicking and I encourage you to stay calm while taking sensible steps to protect yourself and your family.
People have gone a bit “stupid” with all the hysteria surrounding COVID-19. Since the virus does NOT cause GI problems, the run on toilet paper is especially baffling. The key is to take reasonable precautions like washing your hands, self isolating if you develop symptoms, and avoiding large crowds.
We should all be using soap and water to wash our hands regularly during normal times. If you don’t normally wash your hands, now would be an excellent time to get into the habit.
We are in the middle of the flu season. Staying home when you are sick should already be second nature. This is easier now than ever. You can even get your groceries and other essentials delivered to your home via delivery services like Shipt. Working from home, if sick, may also be an option for you.
Even if you stay healthy and go to work, there are steps you can take to limit your exposure to others. I went through a fast food drive through Sunday evening. The employee taking my money had me put it in a plastic bin and she was wearing gloves. The employee handing me my food was also wearing gloves. Assuming they are regularly washing their hands and disinfecting surfaces, they should be fine. For my part, I gave them correct change. In my business, I do the vast majority of my work by taking remote control of my clients’ computers. It is more convenient for me to work at my office, but I wouldn’t hesitate to work from home if I started exhibiting symptoms.
If you are otherwise healthy, staying away from large crowds for the time being makes sense. It is doubly important if you are over 60 or have a compromised immune system. The bans on large events makes a lot of sense as it should help slow the transmission of the virus through the population, giving our health care system a fighting chance of not being overwhelmed.
I would encourage you to try to maintain as normal a life as possible. If you generally go out to dinner on Friday nights, continue to do so. You might pick one of our small local restaurants instead of one of the big chain places. The same applies for other small local businesses. You will limit your exposure to others and help out a struggling small business at the same time. Be smart, but don’t panic.
How long will all of this continue? We don’t know. We’ll simply have to play this one out.
If you have questions, ignore the memes on facebook and take anything a politician or one of the talking heads on TV says with a grain of salt. Get your information directly from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They deal with this stuff for a living and they will give you the best available information.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor