Holiday safety pressed as COVID-cases spike
By LINDA CHION KENNEY
This holiday pandemic season, local officials and retailers have issued unprecedented messages that promote germ-free gifting and the balance between hugs and kisses and masks and distancing.
Hillsborough County officials state the obvious, that “we love our families a lot.” And that’s the hook that leads into the pitch, that residents not only should “Spread Love, Not Germs” — but also to swear by it.
The “I Heart My Family Pledge” asks respondents to vow to do six things: Wear a face covering, socially distance, stay home if sick, get a flu shot, wash and sanitize hands and get tested for COVID-19 should symptoms exist.
Also suggested is to shop online; host a virtual dinner; cook traditional family recipes to deliver to family and friends; host small dinners only for people who live in your household; and watch sporting events, parades and movies from home.
Meanwhile, the pitch from Westfield shopping mall officials echoes that of other vigilant business owners: to keep the virus at bay, we all must join “in the collective fight against COVID-19.”
At Westfield, that includes “best-in-class” hygiene and safety protocols, including the SafeGuard Hygiene Excellence and Safety Verification by Bureau Veritas. Patron protocols include 6-foot social distancing (between yourself and others who are not part of your household or living unit) and staying home if fever, cough, breath shortness or difficulty breathing persists. Masks must be worn at all times if required by local authorities.
Hillsborough County requires face coverings to be worn inside businesses that are open to the public, with certain exceptions.
Meanwhile, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is doing its part to counter the increase in package thefts that mark the holiday season with its “Operation Pinch-a-Grinch” initiative.
According to sheriff’s department officials, last year there were 274 reports of package theft in Hillsborough County, amounting to more than $76,000 in losses.
“This year, with the coronavirus impacting in-store shopping, even more people will be shopping online,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, noting the operation’s increased importance.
Through Dec. 21 residents can have online orders delivered directly to one of two sheriff’s department district offices. The closest location to Riverview is the District 5 office just outside of Brandon, at 10128 Windhorst Road. The second participating location is the District 3 office in Tampa, at 7202 Gunn Highway.
Package distribution times are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. Also, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Residents are required to show a government-issued photo identification card and an order tracking number to claim their packages, which must weigh less than 50 pounds.
As for the County’s “Take the Pledge” initiative, it’s recommended that before a holiday celebration, revelers get a flu shot, host a family meeting to make a family plan, check for travel restrictions and remind invited guests to stay home if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 over the past 14 days or are showing related symptoms.
During the celebration residents should avoid shaking hands and hugging, practice social distancing and wash hands often and sanitize when necessary. After the celebration, a COVID-19 test is recommended, along with limited contact with people not in your orbit of late.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Commissioners were scheduled to address COVID-19 concerns at their Dec. 2 meeting. It comes at a time when Florida cases have topped 1 million with no end in site, nurses warn of increasing hospital demands and a group of nonpartisan mayors is requesting that Gov. Ron DeSantis consider a mask mandate. This he has consistently refused to do as he shifts his focus to vaccine developments and plans to protect the elderly and most vulnerable.
At the Nov. 23 press conference held virtually by National Nurses United, dire warnings of burned-out medical workers and inadequate staffing and supplies were issued as speakers pleaded for people to take the pandemic seriously.
“Florida is a hot mess,” said Marissa Lee, a registered nurse in nearby Kissimmee, 68 miles southwest of Tampa, and vice president of the nurses union. “My hospital is a hot mess. As you know, Florida’s wide open, with no restrictions of any kind. We have already had many COVID patients, and, yes, those numbers are exponentially increasing.”
“You need to listen to the nurses,” added Consuelo Vargas, an emergency room nurse in Chicago. “Social distance, wear a mask and avoid large crowds.”
With the holiday season upon us, “Are you willing to give up one holiday season for 10 more?” Vargas added, noting the very real threat of serious COVID illness and death. “Think of everything you want to accomplish in your life, the places you want to go, the things you want to do, the people you want to spend time with. Are you willing to give all that up?”
To view the NNU press conference, visit: https://bit.ly/3o57npr. For the sheriff’s office initiative, visit https://teamhcsocom and search for “Operation Pinch-a-Grinch.” To view the Dec. 2 County meeting, visit HCFLGov.net and click “Board of County Commissioners” under “Government.” Visit www.Westfield.com for shopping protocols.
To take the County’s “I Heart My Family Pledge,” visit www.HCFLGov.net/HolidayPledge. Share related holiday selfies for a chance to be featured in the County’s COVID Safety Campaign.