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Volunteers package thousands of meals for the needy

SEBRING — About 60 volunteers worked Saturday to prepare thousands of packages of a rice-based vitamin-fortified meal for hungry families in Highlands, Hardee and Polk counties.

Matt and Nancy May, the founders of the non-profit charitable organization “A Heart Like His Foundaiton, Inc.,” relocated recently to Highlands County from Broward County.

“Today is sort of our grand opening,” Nancy said Saturday. “This is our big event introducing ourselves to the community and today’s goal is to pack 14,000 meals.”

The non-perishable meal the volunteers were packaging consists of rice and soy with spices, vitamins and black beans and its called their Latin Spice formula, she explained. After it is heat sealed, it has shelf life of at least three years.

“All you do is add boiling water and it cooks up and it’s to feed families in Highlands, Polk and Hardee counties,” she said.

“Feeding children locally and around the world,” is the mission of the A Heart Like His Foundation, Inc.

“We’ve been in existence since 2011, but we moved our operation from Broward County to Highlands County in just these past few months,” Nancy said. “My husband and I sponsor the building, the electrical and all the administrative expenses. The money that is donated actually goes into the ingredients.”

For more information or to make a donation go online to: www.AHeartLikeHisFoundation.org or connect on Facebook at: AHeartLikeHisFoundation. Phone: 941-793-2487.

The Foundation, which is part of the Kids Against Hunger effort, is located at 435 Lemon Ave, Sebring.

Kids Against Hunger is a trademark of Freedom Foods, a nationally recognized charitable organization with over 50 satellite locations throughout the United States and Canada. A Heart Like His Foundation has a satellite agreement and is recognized as the Kids Against Hunger-Highlands County satellite.

According to Kids Against Hunger, the meal ingredients are formulated by food scientists to provide a rich source of easily digestible protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins needed by an undernourished child’s body and mind.

The food is also acceptable to the broad diversity of ethnic tastes and religious differences around the world. The food offers all nine of the essential amino acids required for complete nutrition, something that can’t be said about other typical food relief sources such as rice or beans alone.

Chances of catching flu better than coronavirus

SEBRING — Everywhere you look, there is news about the coronavirus. It is seemingly everywhere and it is all anyone can talk about. However, health officials warn, the bigger threat has been under our collective noses all the time in the form of influenza.

Dr. Cary Pigman said people are much more likely to get influenza than the coronavirus. He said similar to the flu, the elderly and those who have co-morbidities are at higher risk. He did say coronavirus is 10 times more lethal than influeza.

Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference on Thursday confirming there were no cases of coronavirus in Florida. The Governor told reporters the state is “monitoring” 150 people, which is down from 700 at one time, the News Service of Florida reported on Friday.

Fifteen cases have been diagnosed in the United States, in addition to 47 cases among repatriated persons from high-risk settings, for a current total of 62 cases within the United States, according to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention website, as of Saturday at 5 p.m.

The first United States resident died of the virus in Washington state, it was announced Saturday.

The CDC estimates since Oct. 1, 2019 to Feb. 22 (week 8), “there have been at least 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from flu.” There have also been 125 pediatric deaths.

“Make sure you are protected from the flu,” Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said. “You are much more likely to get influenza than the coronavirus.”

Dr. Brenda Longshore, superintendent of the School Board of Highlands County, wrote a letter to parents stating the board knows parents are concerned about the spreading of the coronavirus. Citing no cases in Florida, Longshore said they would continue to monitor and be proactive. They also gave simple precautions against respiratory illnesses.

“At this point, our primary focus is on flu prevention,” Longshore said.

Local hospitals are monitoring and preparing for the coronavirus.

“We’ve been monitoring and planning for coronavirus for several weeks and many of the protocols overlap with current procedures and steps we take to also help manage the flu, which by the way is double the number of cases in your area over this time last year and remains a much bigger threat to the community,” Richelle Hoenes, AdventHealth spokesperson, said in an email on Thursday.

Medical professionals said it is not too late to get a flu shot.

Race fans have already started camping and coming into the county and more will follow. Sebring International Raceway President and General Manager Wayne Estes told the Highlands News-Sun on Friday they are monitoring the CDC and “will provide updates for the fans” as needed.

Dr. Pigman spent time with the race teams last week in Austin and he said the WEC and IMSA teams are in good health.

Director of Public Relations for Highlands Regional Medical Center Lindsey Pierson responded on the hospital’s readiness for the coronavirus.

“At Highlands Regional Medical Center our team is closely monitoring the coronavirus and collaborating with other government agencies and health departments so that we are prepared to respond to this situation and protect public health,” she said. “Some of our proactive efforts include, educating patients with informative prevention signage, providing staff with protective masks and equipment, screening patients who may be at risk and engaging in weekly training and drills to ensure that the necessary processes are in place. We are committed to provide our patients and community with high-quality care as we continue to monitor the virus and other illnesses.”

AdventHealth stated its preparations:

•All AdventHealth facilities are following CDC guidelines and protocols regarding identifying, isolating and managing patients who may be infected

•Screenings guidelines have been provided to all facilities — we already have a standard protocol to take travel histories from patients so while this is part of the recommendation, it happens at all AdventHealth facilities regularly as standard operating procedure

•We also currently hand out masks as part of protocol in flu season — so someone with symptoms such as coughing, would be given a mask under standard operating procedure

•Infection Prevention specialists with expertise in respiratory viral illnesses are readily available

•Our supply chain leaders are working to ensure adequate supplies are available and we have not experienced any issues

•We have daily and weekly updates and monitoring of reports from international, national, state and local agencies (WHO, CDC, Florida Hospital Association, local health departments)

•All AdventHealth facilities are following reporting and testing procedures as recommended by the CDC and local health departments

Pigman said Rivkees and State Fire Marshal and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are working on protocols for first repsonders.

For more information on the coronavirus, go to cdc.gov/covid19.

State labs now testing for coronavirus

TALLAHASSEE — A top Florida Department of Health official said Saturday that three laboratories in the state can now test for the novel coronavirus, the contagious disease known as COVID-19.

Deputy Secretary of Health Shamarial Roberson told The News Service of Florida that state laboratories in Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa can conduct tests instead of sending samples to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labs in Atlanta.

“It is good news,” Roberson said, adding, “it leads to more timely testing.”

Before the state was able to conduct the tests, it would take three to five days for results. But now, it will take one to two days, according to Roberson.

The announcement that Florida has started conducting its own testing came hours after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement that a King County, Wash., resident had died from COVID-19. It was the first confirmed death in the U.S. from the virus.

Florida has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19. State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who is secretary of the Department of Health, announced Friday that the agency was monitoring 150 people for COVID-19 and that 15 people had tested negative for the deadly virus. Another four people, Rivkees said, were still under investigation.

In addition to Florida conducting its own testing, Roberson said the state has revised guidelines about which residents should be tested for COVID-19. The new guidelines are based on federal recommendations and include testing people who fall into two main categories.

The first group includes people who have recently traveled to and from China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan and have fever and acute upper respiratory infections. Testing also is recommended for people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and are suffering from the symptoms.

In addition to those groups, Roberson said the Department of Health is recommending COVID-19 testing for people who have been hospitalized with fevers and acute upper respiratory infections but who have tested negative for influenza.

Roberson said people who fall into those categories and want to be tested should first call county health departments, which are charged with collecting samples. The collections are done by swabbing people’s noses or throats. County health department telephone numbers can be obtained from the state Department of Health website.

The coronavirus and its rapid spread from Wuhan, China — where it was first reported on Dec. 31 — to another 51 countries has garnered widespread attention. No vaccine exists for the virus, and federal health officials say a vaccine won’t be ready for another year to 18 months.

As of Friday, the World Health Organization reported 83,652 confirmed cases of the virus. Most of those cases, 78,961, were in China, where nearly 2,800 people had died.