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Twelve Hours of Sebring postponed

SEBRING — After the FIA World Endurance Championship announced the cancellation of its race in Sebring early Thursday morning, race fans held their collective breath as they waited for IMSA to determine whether the races will go on. The fans would not have to wait long, around noon, IMSA announced it was postponing the 68th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring as presented by Advance Auto Parts.

IMSA will now end its race season with the 2020 IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship, which will take place Nov. 11-14 at the Sebring International Raceway.

The WeatherTech Night of Champions awards banquet will take place on Nov. 15 at Seven Sebring Raceway Hotel and the Championship Awards for both the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and IMSA Prototype Challenge will take place the weekend of the 12 Hours.

The Sebring Community Redevelopement Agency’s 12-Hour Fan Fest has been postponed from Tuesday evening and will be rescheduled to coincide with the races in November. The Sebring Race Gala, presented by the Highlands Art League, was scheduled for Wednesday but has also been cancelled.

The 12 Hours of Sebring started in 1954 and has only been canceled one time, in 1974 during a national gas shortage.

“Hang on to your 2020 tickets,” said Wayne Estes, general manager and president of Sebring International Raceway. “All of the admission tickets will be honored. November is a great time to be here. We will have a spectacular event. We will have the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring as presented by Advance Auto Parts, Alan Jay 120 and the Prototype Challenge Race.”

The travel restrictions from certain countries made it impossible for the teams and drivers and many necessary people to get stateside before the restrictions would be enforced. Some individuals are here already, as are many WEC cars. Now, teams will have to work on getting back to Europe.

“It does not look like WEC is going to be able to join us in November,” Estes said. “Their schedule won’t work out. I am not saying it is impossible, but it doesn’t look good.”

WEC CEO Gerard Nevu said in a press release on Wednesday night it was not easy to cancel the race. This would have been the second year that featured the WEC team at the 12 Hours.

“This decision was not made lightly. Our teams and officials place great value on racing at Sebring in front of its enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans,” Nevu said. “While this cancellation has been forced upon us because of the travel restrictions from Europe to USA, WEC remains committed at all times to the health and welfare of its teams, officials and race fans. Further, the quality of every aspect of a WEC race event is at the heart of everything that we do and will never be compromised.”

Public events canceled locally

It would seem as though the entire county is watching and waiting for news of the coronavirus.

Local and professional sporting events across the nation are being canceled or postponed. Concerts are being canceled. Films are being postponed. Festivals and fairs are being rescheduled.

Events in Highlands County have also fallen in the crosshairs of novel coronavirus COVID-19. The first event, FIA World Endurance Championship, cancelled early Thursday morning and others fell in line like dominoes.

Archbold Biological Station and the Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency and many more canceled public events Thursday amid reports of the increasing risk of novel coronavirus COVID-19.

• At Archbold Biological Station, the safety of its visitors and staff is a top priority. Due to the increasing threat of COVID-19, the Station has decided to cancel its public events until further notice. The following events are canceled:

Saturday, March 14: Restoration of sandhill and scrub at Archbold

Wednesday, March 18: Hicoria: Brief History of a Florida Ghost Town

Saturday, April 4: Natural History of the Florida Scrub-Jay

Saturday, April 11: Family Nature Day

It is hoped the dates will be rescheduled at a later time. Visit www.archbold-station.org, on Facebook look for the most up-to-date information, or call 863-465-2571 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

• Out of an abundance of caution for the health and well-being of the community, the Sebring CRA has canceled the its Cinema on the Circle that was scheduled for tonight, as well as the Downtown Sounds scheduled for Friday, March 20.

• The IMSA Twelve-Hour Fan Fest scheduled for Tuesday, March 17 is tentatively postponed until November 11-14.

• The popular pancake breakfast and Young Eagles flight that is held monthly by the EAA Chapter 1240 has also been scheduled for Saturday. The breakfast should resume next month. Watch the Highlands News-Sun for further announcements.

• Due to concerns for the public, the sponsors and volunteers, the Highlands Art League has also chosen to cancel the 2020 Race Gala on Wednesday. Please visit www.highlandsartleague.org for more information on ticket refunds, and about the online auction that they will be hosting, honoring the commitment that sponsors and donors have made to continue the work of HAL in the Sebring Community. For more information, call 863-385-5312.

• The 10th annual Run the Track will be postponed from March 14 and is rescheduled for Nov. 7. More details will follow.

This list will be updated as we become aware of new postponements or cancellations.

Nursing homes limiting visits under governor's direction

SEBRING — Anyone who has traveled outside the country, including on cruise ships, or been in contact with an infected person may not be able to visit loved ones in an assisted living facility or nursing home.

In addition to that, the Department of Corrections has ordered face-to-face visitations to cease at state prisons, and Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday suspended non-essential travel by state workers for a month.

He also urged local governments to cancel “mass” events or set up screening measures at those events to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

He announced the new nursing home protocols on Wednesday, according to the News Service of Florida.

“These are important efforts to mitigate the risk to our most vulnerable population to COVID-19, which is our elderly population, particularly those with underlying medical conditions,” DeSantis said.

Florida has 688 licensed nursing homes and another 3,782 licensed assisted living facilities, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. News Service of Florida reports DeSantis has also applied the restrictions to adult family care homes and adult group homes.

With aggressive screening of visitors, state officials hope to avoid a repeat of problems in Washington state, where nursing home residents died from the respiratory disease.

“The choice is clear,” Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said. “Florida will and must take every step to prevent real and potentially fatal threats to our elderly and senior populations and those with underlying health conditions.”

In Sebring, The Palms of Sebring announced that staff are restricting all visitors, for now. The only exceptions would be for residents on hospice or end-of-life care.

“We understand that connecting with your loved ones is incredibly important,” The Palms’ notice states, “and there are a variety of other ways you might consider communicating with them.”

Among those listed are telephone, email, text, video chat and social media.


DeSantis also told reporters that Florida had 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and two of those patients died.

Results are pending on another 147 tests.

Despite statements from a top U.S. health official that Florida had “community spread” of the disease, DeSantis said the virus has not yet begun moving through Florida among people not already in the risk groups.

All those who have tested positive have traveled internationally or have been in contact with someone who had contracted the virus, News Service reported.

“With a community spread situation, you have three or four people that have never traveled, have never been in contact with anyone who has traveled, then that is when you think it was maybe when they touched a public railing,” DeSantis said. “So, if you can’t link the cases, that’s when they are doing it. All of the cases except one, so far, have had a link to either someone who has been positive who has been traveling in that area, or who has themselves traveled.”

His restrictions were announced as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a pandemic, a description generally used for a quick worldwide spread of disease. The virus started late last year in Wuhan, China, and has infected more than 121,000 people.

Florida Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees said prevention measures like hand-washing and self-isolation remain the best options to keep people safe.

“Because this is a flu-like illness spread by coughing, the protective measures are what we will continue to emphasize,” Rivkees said. “Cover your cough. Stay at home when you are sick. Stay away from individuals who are ill and continue to wash your hands.”


In-person visits with prisoners at all prison facilities have stopped until April 5, corrections officials announced late Wednesday. Inmates will have “access to their loved ones through mail, phone calls and video visitations,” state officials said.

Attorneys, however, will still be allowed to visit inmates in person, corrections department spokeswoman Michelle Glady told the News Service.

There are “no known or suspected cases” of coronavirus in the prison system, officials said, but DeSantis approved of suspending visitation as a precaution.

Florida’s prison population — the third largest in the nation, with roughly 96,000 inmates — includes thousands of elderly inmates, News Service reported.

State analysis lists 7,352 inmates in state prisons that are 60 years old or older. That number is expected to grow substantially over the next decade.

Visits and phone time are widely accepted as a key part of inmates’ rehabilitation and mental health, and agency officials said they are “fortunate to have more than 30,000 visitors from across the country” every month.

Without in-person visitations, the department will be more reliant on for-profit video-calling systems installed at prison facilities.

Highlands County Sheriff’s Office officials, when contacted about their policy, said they already use video-calling systems for all visitations, and will not need to curtail visitations at this time.


Meanwhile, if local governments allow mass events, DeSantis recommended having people at entryways to quiz attendees on whether or not they are sick, have been in contact with people that may have been sick or have recently traveled.

DeSantis told reporters that some large-scale events can be postponed until later or may be televised to spectators.

He said he also directed state agencies to allow people to work from home where possible.

“The state has a workforce of over 90,000 individuals whose health and well-being are a priority,” DeSantis said. “If they can perform functions at home, now is a good time to do that.”

SFSC continues on campus classes as spring break nears

AVON PARK — South Florida State College President Thomas Leitzel told the SFSC District Board of Trustees that the coronavirus is affecting everyone, including the college.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees, Leitzel noted the college has daily posts and updates on its website concerning the Coronavirus.

“This is affecting everyone; it is a critical time for us,” he said.

Announcements will be posted to everyone prior to spring break and alerts are ready to go in the event the governor calls to issue a directive, Leitzel said.

SFSC issued an update late Wednesday stating that although the State University System is implementing a process to transition to remote instruction immediately, the Florida College System is operating as normal, as stated by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Florida College System Chancellor Kathryn Hebda in a recent conference call.

Currently, South Florida State College is proceeding with spring break as scheduled for March 16-20.

“If there are any updates or changes to regularly scheduled classes or events, we will inform the SFSC community through the College’s website southflorida.edu, social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), Daily Connection, and the Blackboard Connect text messaging system will be activated as appropriate,” Leitzel said.

Leitzel told the Board of Trustees that sanitation wipes have been distributed through all the deans’ offices and are at multiple locations so faculty can use them to wipe off surfaces in their teaching areas. “We are instructing people to wash their hands.”

Hand sanitizer stations have been set up in the lobby of the Alan J. Wildstein Center for Performing Arts, as well.

“It is going to affect us,” Leitzel reiterated.

The final show of the Artist Series (on March 25) was cancelled by the performers — Motown with a Twist/Dancing with the Stars — so there will be refunds to all the subscribers and patrons who purchased tickets, he said.

Two weeks ago the college was informed to start preparing to offer all classes online, Leitzel said. The problem with only having online instruction, is how to do it with occupational and continuing workforce education courses and classes like automotive technology from the DeSoto Campus. It’s difficult.”

The SFSC website includes the following message: “As you head out on spring break, please keep in mind that non-essential international travel is not recommended and if you do travel outside of the U.S., upon return to Florida, a 14-day self-isolation is advised. More information on the Florida Department Health’s guidelines for travel can be found at bit.ly/advisorysfsc.

“If you will not be traveling internationally, but will leave your home, please protect yourself by following the guidelines from the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by visiting bit.ly/besafesfsc.”