HERNANDO — Ask anyone the last public activity they were doing a year ago and they’ll probably be able to remember it like it was yesterday.
While the state was shutting down movie theaters, bars, and nightclubs as early as March 17, Hernando County did not see its first official case of COVID-19 until March 19, according to Ashley Thomas, health education program consultant and public information officer for DOH-Hernando. And it wasn’t just one instance; there were four COVID-positive cases reported that day.
“When the virus first began impacting the community, in addition to calls from worried residents, we also received calls from people and organizations saying, ‘How can we help?’” Thomas said. “Like many communities, we’ve found we are stronger together even when we must be apart.”
Everyone came together to support one another, from a 97-year-old woman at a nursing home that sewed masks for the community to a local doctor who secured a large number of masks for a drive-through distribution to seniors. Organizations such as the Spring Hill Nature Coast Lions Club created and donated gift bags of canned goods, puzzles, sanitizer and tissue for quarantined families.
“The community’s hospitals, doctor’s offices and medical staff worked around the clock,” Thomas added. “Children drew pictures and wrote cards in support of public health; and leaders from Hernando County government, the city of Brooksville, the sheriff’s office and school district worked tirelessly to share information with residents as it was made available.”
The Health Department has continued to vaccinate the public at the Hernando County Fairgrounds four days a week, and test for COVID at its facility. According to Robin Napier, administrator for DOH-Hernando, at the March 9 Board of County Commissioners regular meeting, there have been at least 3,832 cases of COVID-19 in the county, 3,793 of which were residents. Of those total cases, 3,590 cases have been cleared. The DOH-Hernando is allocated 3,000 vaccines per week, and as of March 10 has vaccinated 29,639 people in the county, 44% of which are in the 65 years-and-older category.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has expanded the executive order to vaccinate persons under 65 deemed medically vulnerable by a physician (form required), those 60 and older, K-12 school employees 50 years of age and older, sworn law enforcement officers 50 years of age and older, and fire fighters 50 years of age and older.
“From a public health perspective, the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County has strengthened community partnerships, streamlined processes, and gained the expertise that only a real-word experience can provide,” Thomas said. “The lessons learned will be invaluable for future public health emergencies.”