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St. Petersburg College extends spring break

St. Petersburg College is the latest of the area's major higher education institutions to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. The college has extended spring break for students through Tuesday, March 17, it said in a notice posted late Friday. Most of the college’s courses are being transitioned to an online format. Classes resume on Wednesday, March 18. All large-scale, college-sponsored events will be canceled, postponed or conducted virtually March 16 through April 13. At that time, SPC will review the situation and provide additional information, the school said.  

All Florida public schools ordered to close until March 30

Florida Public Schools have been ordered to close for two weeks, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, according to media reports across the state. The Florida Department of Education announced Friday that all schools would be shut down for the weeks of March 16-20 and March 23-27. According to the report, the order was made by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.  Numerous districts in the state were already scheduled for spring break vacation during at least one of the two weeks. For those schools, the break will simply be extended one week. Other districts who were not scheduled to close during those weeks will now close. Districts are also ordering that schools be cleaned during the closure. Many schools are likely to provide meals for children in need during the closure. Check back with St. Pete Catalyst for updates. 

Florida primary polling places changed amid COVID-19 concerns

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has made emergency polling place changes throughout Pinellas County in response to the threat of coronavirus. Polling places for the March 17 primary election have been moved out of eight Assisted Living Facilities and into new polling places nearby. Affected voters should receive email and mail communication of the changes, as well as phone calls. Workers will also we stationed at the original polling places on March 17, directing voters to the new polling places. Impacted voters should visit: https://www.votepinellas.com/Election-Information/Find-Your-Precinct-Polling-Place

Tampa Bay Innovation Center, Tampa Bay Wave postpone events

The Tampa Bay Innovation Center is cancelling any pubic meetings and meetups through the end of April. The St. Petersburg-based business incubator remains open but has adjusted its business practices, said Tonya Elmore, president and CEO. The Innovation Center also is extending the application period for its next accelerator  progam and will announce later start date to accommodate any concerns. Participants in the current CO.STARTERS cohort program will be notified if future sessions will be held virtually, and the Innovation Center is converting in-person meetings to calls or will hold them virtually. Tampa Bay Wave in Tampa is taking similar steps. Wave's Venture Center will remain open during regular business hours, said Heather McMillan, senior operations manager. However, Wave plans to postepone all events at Wave's Venture Center through the end of March. She's encouraging people to reach out through Wave's Slack channel (tbwave.slack.com).

DeSantis mobilizes national guard, closes nursing homes in Broward County to all visitors

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced Friday that he would be prohibiting all visitation to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult family care homes, longer term care facilities and group homes in Broward County for the next thirty days in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.  DeSantis also announced he would be mobilizing the Florida National Guard to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The scope of the mobilization has not yet been determined.  DeSantis provided an update regarding testing and cases of coronavirus in Florida. He said there were 17 new cases of COVID-19 in Florida overnight, moving the total number of cases in Florida to 51. There are currently 221 tests pending results, according to the governor, 478 tests with negative results, 1048 individuals have been monitored to date and are no longer being monitored, while 365 individuals are currently being monitored. According to DeSantis, of the tests from community health centers across the state, 90 percent are coming back negative.  DeSantis has asked the Florida Surgeon General to expand testing capabilities across the state of Florida, purchase 2500 testing kits with the capacity to process up to 625,000 individuals. 

Charter expands broadband access in response to coronavirus

Charter Communications says it will offer free access to Spectrum broadband and WiFi for 60 days, to help households with students impacted directly or indirectly by Covid-19. The free access, which begins Monday, March 16,  is for households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription at any service level up to 100 Mbps. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households. It's one of a series of steps Charter (Nasdaq: CHTR) — one of the largest internet providers in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area — has announced to support customers. Charter also said it would partner with school districts to ensure local communities are aware of these tools to help students learn remotely. For eligible low-income households without school-aged children, Charter continues to offer Spectrum Internet Assist, a low-cost broadband program delivering speeds of 30 Mbps. Charter also will open its WiFi hotspots across for public use. 

Nova Southeastern University suspends all classes

Nova Southeastern University has suspended all classes until Monday, March 23. The suspension applies to all NSU campus locations, a news release said. Last year, NSU opened its new Clearwater campus, home to the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Dr. Pallavi Patel College of Health Care Sciences. When classes resume, they will be online, NSU said.

Florida Orchestra cancels performances through April 5

The Florida Orchestra has canceled all concerts through April 5 to limit the spread of the coronavirus (covid-19). Canceled: March 20-22: Bach’s St. John Passion Masterworks concert;  March 25 & 26: Bright Side of Beethoven Coffee Concert; March 27-29: Broadway Pops concert; April 3-5:  Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons Masterworks concert; Week of community chamber concerts at hospitals, Tampa International Airport, ZooTampa and R.E. Olds Park. Postponed: March 28: Peter and the Wolf Storytime Series; March 29: String Trio Woodson Chamber Series.

BayCare restricts hospital visitors

BayCare Health System is putting visitor restrictions in place at all its hospitals. Beginning today, BayCare facilities will start screening visitors for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus. Those who are deemed a risk will be restricted from entering the facility and may be referred to an emergency department, the system said in a news release. All children under the age of 18 also are restricted from visiting in what the system called "an abundance of caution." BayCare said it did not come to this decision lightly. Familial and social connections can be important to patients’ recovery and BayCare said it encourages loved ones to leverage video conferencing, such as FaceTime, to keep in touch with patients. BayCare facilities impacted by the restrictions include St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg. Other facilities are: Bardmoor Emergency Center, BayCare Alliant Hospital, Mease Countryside Hospital, Mease Dunedin Hospital, Morton Plant Hospital, all St. Joseph’s Hospitals, South Florida Baptist Hospital, Morton Plant North Bay, Bartow Regional Medical Center, Winter Haven Hospital and  Winter Haven Women’s Hospital.

Stetson Law postpones, cancels campus events

Stetson University College of Law is postponing, rescheduling and cancelling all events hosted on campus that primarily are attended by external visitors, effective through March 31, citing coronavirus concerns. The Gulfport law school also has cancelled all non-essential Stetson-sponsored domestic and international travel through the end of the spring term, a notice posted on its website said. Following spring break in Gulfport, all classes will resume on Monday, March 23, via remote instruction, a separate notice from Stetson University said. Both Stetson University and the College of Law classes will continue in an online format through the end of the spring semester on all Stetson campuses.

Update: Valspar Championship is off

The PGA Tour cancelled the Valspar Championship, set to take place next week at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor. The decision to cancel the event came late Thursday and changed an earlier decision that the event would be played but without spectators. The Valspar Championship is one of four events, including The Players Championship, that has been cancelled, organizers posted on the event's website. "We did everything possible to create a safe environment for our players in order to continue the event throughout the weekend, and we were endeavoring to give our fans a much-needed respite from the current climate. But at this point – and as the situation continues to rapidly change – the right thing to do for our players and our fans is to pause," the PGA Tour said in a website post.

Eckerd College moves to remote classes, closes dorms

Eckerd College in St. Petersburg has joined the list of schools halting in-person classroom instruction, at least for now. The school is extending its spring break, which starts March 16, by one week, and will resume classes via remote delivery on March 30, an online announcement said. Students must leave campus no later than noon, March 18, and Eckerd said there is a chance the residence halls could be closed for the rest of the semester. The college said it will will communicate future plans on March 30.

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