What you need to know about living through the coronavirus crisis in Central Florida


Efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus have disrupted daily life in Orlando. Bars and nightclubs have been closed, restaurants finally reopening with 25 percent capacity and the city’s theme parks temporarily shuttered.

The situation is changing by the hour, but Orlando Sentinel journalists are working diligently to keep you informed on every aspect of this crisis. Here are the key things you should know.

Working and getting out

  • BUSINESSES: Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered bars and nightclubs to close on St. Patrick’s Day, then shut down restaurants except for takeout or delivery March 20. Now, restaurants will be able to open at 25 percent dining room capacity starting May 4. Orlando’s theme parks remain closed until further notice. Retail establishments are beginning to open with limited capacity, but gyms, barbershops, salons and theaters remain closed.
  • CURFEWS: Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced a county-wide curfew 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily during a briefing March 20. Osceola County also announced a curfew that covers the same hours. First responders such as paramedics and police are exempt from the curfew along with healthcare workers and others providing essential services. There is also an exemption for people traveling to and from work.
  • CANCELED EVENTS: With an advisory from the CDC cautioning against public gatherings of 10 or more people, nearly all events have been canceled or postponed. We have a running list to follow along with, but it’s reasonable to assume that in the next few weeks, any planned public event for more than 10 people has been postponed or canceled.
  • REOPENING OUR REGION AND STATE: Orange County leaders have begun offering recommendations and steps to reopen our region. At the state level, Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced a phased approach to starting up the state’s economy.
  • RELIGIOUS SERVICES: Many local churches and houses of worship have transitioned to online prayers, meditation posts and services. Check with your local church or religious provider for updates.
  • COURTSThe Florida Supreme Court extended a suspension of jury trials and many other in-person court proceedings through May. That includes grand jury proceedings, jury selection, and criminal and civil jury trials. If you have been summoned for jury duty, you don’t have to go. That doesn’t mean courthouses are closed entirely. Certain court proceedings considered “essential,” such as first-appearances for people newly arrested, bond hearings and hearings on petitions for restraining orders and emergency guardianship, are still being held. However, those hearings are being conducted remotely when possible. You can find the latest guidelines for your local courts on each circuit’s website: the Ninth Circuit for Orange and Osceola countiesthe 18th Circuit for Seminole and Brevard; and the Fifth Circuit for Lake.

Recreational activities

  • BEACHES: In Central Florida, some beaches remain open for limited activities. In Brevard County, beach activities are limited to walking, jogging, biking, fishing, surfing and swimming. Sunbathing is now allowed on some beaches with social distancing measures in place. Volusia County beaches are open for exercise, as are those in Flagler County.
  • OUTDOOR RECREATION: Florida has closed all 175 of its state parks as of March 23 because limiting hours and capacity did not prove effective in limiting crowds with current public health guidelines. Now, the state is choosing to reopen 80 state parks in some capacity beginning May 4. Orange County’s Kelly Park, which includes Rock Springs Run, is also closed. Some cities and municipalities may have park or trail closures, but exercise via running, cycling, walking or other activities is permitted despite the stay-at-home orders for Orange and Osceola counties.
  • GYMS AND FITNESS CENTERS: On the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis banned restaurants from serving food on-site, he closed gyms and fitness centers statewide. However, a number of local and national fitness centers are offering free online classes.

Staying entertained at home

Eating and shopping

  • RESTAURANTS ARE CLOSED, BUT YOU CAN GET TAKEOUT: Bars and nightclubs are closed, and restaurants can soon reopen with limited dining capacity. But many eateries are open for takeout and delivery. Here’s a list of Central Florida restaurants offering takeout and delivery. Food-delivery apps are waiving delivery fees until further notice.
  • GROCERY STORES: Supermarkets across Central Florida are changing their hours as well as designating certain days and times exclusively for senior citizens or people at higher risk of coronavirus. Publix will begin designating Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from 7-8 a.m. for customers 65 and older beginning March 24. Publix’s pharmacy will open at 7 a.m. on those days for seniors only. Winn-Dixie and Fresco y Más are designating 8-9 a.m. Monday through Friday for seniors and high-risk customers in all stores. Pharmacy locations will open at 8 a.m. on weekdays to provide prescription refills, flu and pneumonia vaccines and customer counseling. Fresh Market is designating 8-9 a.m. Monday through Friday as reserved for “seniors and those most at risk.” Whole Foods hours may vary by location but all stores will open for customers 60 and older an hour before the general public can enter. Sedano’s Supermarkets will set aside 7-8 a.m. for those over 65 and most at risk.
  • STOCKING YOUR KITCHEN: Marlene Koch, a registered dietitian nutritionist and New York Times best-selling cookbook author, gives some ideas of items you might want to buy and cook while stuck at home. The Sentinel’s multimedia food writer Amy Drew Thompson demos homemade pasta for those stuck at home.
  • FREE MEALS FOR STUDENTSCentral Florida public school campuses are offering free lunches for students during the closures. Parents in Orange County and some surrounding counties can pick up meals without getting out of the car, but they must have their children with them. Children who walk or bike up to schools can also get meals. Parents looking for the nearest participating campus can visit summerbreakspot.freshfromflorida.com.
  • FREE MEALS IN CENTRAL FLORIDA: The Sentinel has compiled a list of places to go for free food and meals in Central Florida. Here’s where to find help.

Help with finances

  • HOW TO GET FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE: We won’t lose our homes because of the coronavirus crisis. Our power won’t be shut off. And we’re not going to go hungry. Financial services companies, nonprofit relief programs, utilities and government assistance agencies are stepping up ways to help consumers get through the coming weeks and months of layoffs, business interruptions and self quarantines. We have some ways you can get help now.
  • HELP FOR RESTAURANT WORKERS: Restaurant workers have been hit hard by the coronavirus crises. But there are efforts here to ease the burden facing kitchen staff, servers, bartenders and others.
  • WHO IS HIRING: The Sentinel is keeping a running list of Central Florida chains and businesses currently hiring. Visit the list if you or someone you know is in need of work currently.
  • HOW TO HELP: If you find yourself in a position of being able to give back to the community, columnist Scott Maxwell has compiled a list of ways to support Central Floridians in need during these trying times.

Staying safe

  • CORONAVIRUS Q&ACan I still go for a run? How can I tell the difference between allergies and COVID-19? These are just a few questions answered in our coronavirus question and answer article, which is updated regularly.
  • WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE SICK: The initial symptoms of the novel coronavirus are similar to the common flu: fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you have these symptoms, avoid contact with others, avoid travel, wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If you’re sick enough to go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms. If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should contact your county health department (floridahealth.gov/chdepicontact).
  • WHERE TO FIND TESTING SITES: Drive-thru testing sites are continuing to open in Central Florida. Tests at some Orange County mobile testing sites are being offered to those with and without symptoms, but an appointment is required.
  • DON’T TOUCH THESE THINGS: You should always think about what exactly you’re putting your hands on. You may come across some of the most germ spreaders in your daily routine. Some you may not think about: remote controls, dish sponges, cash, gas pumps, touch screens, and more.
  • WORDS AND PHRASES YOU NEED TO KNOW: When is an epidemic considered a pandemic, and what is the difference? What do health officials mean when they recommend “self-quarantining” or “social distancing”? As the coronavirus spreads, new terms are entering the lexicon. We have a guide to help you stay informed.

Schools and colleges

  • PRE-K AND K-12 SCHOOLS: Schools across Florida are closed through the end of the academic year. Gov. Ron DeSantis canceled Pre-K and K-12 testing, such as the Florida Standards Assessment, even if disruptions from the coronavirus have died down by next month. Most students started virtual learning following extended spring breaks.
  • COLLEGES: Public and private colleges and universities have closed or moved to online classes. Schools in the state university system have shifted to online learning. On-campus events are part of the state-wide ban on large gatherings. Graduation ceremonies for state colleges have also been canceled.

More resources

News source: Orlando Sentinel.

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