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Putnam County has its first fatality from coronavirus. Mary Garcia with the state Department of Health in Putnam County reports a 54-year-old Palatka man died early this morning due to complications of COVID-19. He was one of two people hospitalized for the virus. The case is not travel related. “I cannot express how important it is to self-isolate,” said Garcia. She urged calling a health care provider if symptoms worsen so you can be tested and treated.
Before this morning’s death, Putnam County was reporting 14 people who have tested positive for coronavirus. Putnam Commission Chair Terry Turner said Thursday two of the 14 have recovered. Flagler County reports 25 cases and one death. The 72-year-old woman who died had come in contact with someone with coronavirus and did have a long history of asthma problems. St. Johns County, which has had two deaths, is reporting 102 cases.
Florida goes to mandatory stay-at-home today with many trying to figure out exactly what that will mean. Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the home stays for all not involved in what are designated essential businesses. That’s meant a work shutdown for many although people can still go out to grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, medical offices and take out restaurants among other places. It’s entertainment, recreation and non-essential shopping that are hardest hit although people are allowed to get outside to walk or ride.
St. Johns and Putnam County sheriffs are acknowledging the unprecedented and difficult situations people face now due to coronavirus. Calls are coming in from people worried about violating the stay-at-home order taking effect today. Putnam Sheriff Gator DeLoach during a news conference Thursday said deputies are being told to use and exercise good judgment. While deputies do have arrest authorization for offenders they’re hoping others will exercise good judgment and deputies won’t have to use that authority. One of the ways is to avoid large social gatherings even with families. St. Johns Sheriff David Shoar says the main focus is to keeping residents safe. Sheriff’s department websites are running lists of allowed activities and essential businesses.
St. Johns County is the first to announce high school graduations are canceled. Superintendent Tim Forson called it a “very difficult decision” in his email to parents and guardians, adding virtual graduation plans will be announced. Many St. Johns graduations are held at the University of North Florida arena and that will be not be available. In Flagler County no determination about graduation or proms has been made yet. Virtual education programs are extended at least to May 1. In Putnam County Superintendent Rick Surrency called the first week of online and home learning successful and saluted the district and community for a remarkable joint effort. Almost 6,500 Chromebooks have been distributed to students for online learning and businesses and government offices have helped out by providing online access. Bus drivers and instructional assistants have stepped up to help Food Service with providing more than 24,000 meals so far this week.
A number of area restaurants are making the transition to drive up and take out services. One, the popular Magnolia Café in Palatka, celebrates its seventh anniversary today and ironically will be closing its doors at least temporarily. Owners have decided to go forward with renovation plans early but say they will be reopening including a name change.
Crescent City Commissioner Kathleen Berg, 57, has been arrested and charged with exploitation of $50,000 or more from an elderly person or disabled adult, according to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. Berg turned herself into the Putnam jail Thursday and was released on $20,000 bond. Detectives began investigating in October over alleged mishandling of funds for a disabled adult. That included Social Security benefits and more than $170,000 in life insurance payments. According to the victim, Berg never checked on him to ensure his living conditions were acceptable although she was responsible for his financial affairs following the death of his mother. A family member took control of the victim’s finances and wellbeing in April 2019 and reportedly discovered the missing money.
St. Augustine water works plant reports they’ve finished adjustments to the treatment process. Chlorine and ammonia are used to maintain disinfection of the water and a 21-day process has been underway to ensure compliance.
Sav-a-Lot store manager Mary Wright Perry in Putnam County now knows how much people care. She put out a request on Facebook to buy hand sanitizer or aloe and 70 percent or higher alcohol so she could make sanitizer for her store employees. Perry showed off masks she’s already made for her workers in order to protect them in dealings with the public. She went back on Facebook to report: “My customers ROCK!! Thank you all who dropped off supplies for me to make the hand sanitizer. … we should have enough to last us for a while … And I especially appreciate the box of GIRL SCOUT COOKIES …Lol … They were gone in 20 minutes.
This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.