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Open-air eating, sports venues more popular in pandemic

SEBRING — If it seems to you like more of your favorite restaurants have opened outdoor dining, it’s not your imagination.

Twenty years ago, restaurants built outdoor dining areas for smokers. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged decks for all diners. Eating out and eating outside has become a new tourism promotion, along with activities that lend themselves to outdoor activity and open-air venues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in addition to the standing recommendations to use face masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing/sanitation, also has several recommendations for dining, sport events and outdoor gatherings to help reduce spread of the coronavirus.

DiningThe lowest risk is having food service limited to drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curbside pick up, especially with “non-contract” protocols. Slightly greater risk is to have dining limited to outdoor seating, with seating capacity reduced to allow restaurateurs to spread tables out at least six feet or more from each other.

Higher risk dining, the CDC states, includes indoor seating with tables six feet apart or outdoor dining with tables less than six feet apart. The highest risk is indoor seating with no reduced capacity and tables spaces less than six feet apart.

Currently, Highlands County’s Tourist Development Council, trademarked as “VisitSebring,” recommends several eateries for their outdoor dining. The CDC recommends diners choose establishments that help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread by having employees wash their hands frequently, wear masks at all times and employ frequent cleaning and disinfection.

SportsA frequent quip last year at the beginning of the pandemic was how those who like fishing are uniquely suited to social distancing during a pandemic. That remains true, and according to VisitSebring, there are several fishing camps for anglers to stay socially distanced from others, especially on Lake Istokpoga.

As for team/field sports, VisitSebring states those events have survived the pandemic well. However, the CDC recommends players and their parents still consider the following:

- Whether the event is or can be played indoors or outdoors.

- Community levels of COVID-19 before scheduling an event.

- Whether or not the sport itself requires close contact.

- The intensity of play and whether that exertion can present a higher risk, especially indoors.

- Amount of time players spend close to each other or to staff.

- Amount of shared equipment/gear.

- Ability to maintain social distancing while not engaged in play.

- Age of the players and their abilities to follow COVID-19 protocols.

- Size of the team.

- Number of non-essential visitors and spectators.

- Travel outside of the local community.

- Behavior of athletes on the field.

EventsHighlands County has seen a return to large outdoor events, such as the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Backyard BBQ Bash and the upcoming Sebring Soda Festival. All events had or have guidelines and protocols for visitors to follow to reduce or eliminate the spread of COVID-19 at those events. The CDC also has guidelines to follow, listed below.

- Consider the number of COVID-19 cases in your community before deciding to attend.

- Think of your exposure during travel, such as at rest areas, airports, bus terminals and both train and gas stations, as well as on planes, trains and buses.

- Find out if the event is indoors with good or poor ventilation or outdoors with open ventilation.

- Find out how long the event is, as longer events pose greater risks.

- Get an idea how big the crowd will be, as people are safest if they can stay six feet or more apart.

- Consider the behavior of attendees with respect to interaction with those outside their own home, singing, shouting, crowding or failing to wear masks.

As always, the CDC recommends people wear masks, stay six feet or more from others and wash/sanitize their hands frequently to prevent catching or transmitting the virus.

Further details from the CDC can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov. Information on outdoor dining and fishing camps may be found at VisitSebring.com.

Neal earns Air Force JROTC Silver Valor Award

SEBRING – Sebring High School sophomore Air Force JROTC cadet Ethan Neal was presented the Silver Valor Award by Col. Mark Colbert and Chief Master Sergeant Dennis Green on Tuesday morning. Ethan was presented the award in front of his class peers and his proud parents and brother Barb, Sean and Kyle respectively.

Colbert said the Silver Valor Award is the second highest JROTC award and it is given for an act of heroism, which Ethan performed at the Highlands County Fair last year. According to Colbert, fellow cadet and sophomore Zurieliz Colon was on a fair ride called the “Zipper” and hit her head on a cage bar in the ride. Colon lost consciousness. That’s when Neal took immediate action and possibly saved the young lady’s life.

Colbert described the incident in the short but heartfelt presentation.

“Realizing that her head would sustain serious injury, causing unknown damage and possibly death, he (Neal) used his arm to immobilize her head,” Colbert said. “Cadet Neal continued to protect the cadet’s head until the cadet came conscious and was ale to control her head again.”

The presentation was delayed because of COVID-19. In fact, it almost didn’t happen at all. According to Colbert, the submission for the award happened after the deadline. Colbert said they plead for a special consideration because it was no one’s fault they were not in school. The award was finally granted. The award came with a certificate, ribbon and a medal.

Ethan was asked how he knew what to do in the emergency situation.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I just kind of figured that would help.

“I feel honored and privileged,” Ethan said about receiving the award.

Colon was in the class during the presentation and she said it was a scary event. She was happy that Ethan “was there.” She also said that she has been on rides since then but hasn’t gotten back on the “Zipper.”

Barb Neal joked that she was feeling “pretty good” about Ethan and said they would keep him.

“We have always told him to do the right thing,” she said.

“He was in the right place at the right time,” Sean Neal said. “He’s always looking out for everyone else.”

Principal Kim Ervin said she was very proud of Ethan and was honored to be his principal.

The gold award is the highest award and to qualify for that, you must save someone while your own life is in danger. Colbert explained that while Colon was unconscious, Cadet Neal was not in harm’s way.

County's COVID numbers improve
  • Updated

Highlands County’s coronavirus numbers were down across the board when the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 update came out on Tuesday afternoon. There were only 11 new cases reported for the county.

In all there have been 7,639 cases of infections. The cases are divided into 7,552 residents and 87 non-residents. That’s an increase of two non-residents overnight. Over the past seven days there have been 108 cases, for a daily average of 15.42 cases of COVID daily.

After an adjustment in deaths, the county has seen 320, down from 321 on Monday.

The testing was up at 156 and 146 negative results. The positivity rate was down considerably to 6.41% from Monday.

Cumulative hospitalizations are at 601. According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, there were 31 people hospitalized on Tuesday afternoon, which did not change from Monday.

The daily average age is 46 and the overall median age is 52 years of age. The Corrections cases of COVID has remained at 124.

There have been 669 long-term care facilities and there have been 84 deaths from long-term care facilities staff and residents.

The state added 5,062 new cases of COVID to its tally overnight bringing the new total to 2,052,441 infections. Of those cases, 2,014,354 residents have become infected and 38,087 non-residents have contracted the virus.

Furthermore, 551 cases were in the 14 and under age group.

Deaths were up for the second day in a row across the state to 92. The death toll has risen to 33,983 people. Of those whose deaths have been attributed to COVID, 33,338 have been from residents and 645 were from non-residents.

Florida processed 80,797 tests with 75,661 negative results for Tuesday’s report. The daily positivity rate was 6.36%.

Cases in the United States climbed a bit on Monday, as several states which don’t typically report on weekends turned in several days worth of numbers. Still, cases in the United States are on a bit of an upswing, with 72,301 reported by states on Monday. That pushes the rolling seven-day average to 60,302, which is a 12% increase from last week and a 14% rise from two weeks ago. Still, it’s 9% lower than numbers seen a month ago, but it is trending in the wrong direction.

There were 560 deaths reported, while hospitalizations were up 583 from the previous day. The culprit there is Michigan, which saw an additional 380 people hospitalized overnight, as the state is being hit hard, with a 57% increase in cases and a 48% rise in hospitalizations. The state reported 5,177 new cases on Tuesday and 48 new deaths, although 20 of them were found during “a Vital Records review.”

Texas has seen its downward trend level off and some numbers are starting to climb.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States has seen 30.38 million cases and had 550,688 deaths.

Globally, there have been 128 million cases and 2.8 million deaths.