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GAINESVILLE - Due to rapidly rising COVID cases in the community and among employees, Alachua County Public Schools will require indoor masking by all employees, vendors and visitors at district facilities. The requirement will be in place regardless of vaccination status.

The requirement will take effect Tuesday, August 3 and last through Friday, September 17. The district will then reassess the COVID data to determine if the requirement should remain in place.

Florida recently recorded the highest number of COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The state also has the nation’s highest hospitalization rate. Cases among ACPS employees have risen significantly over the last two weeks, and one individual passed away this past weekend due to COVID-related complications.

“With rates as high as they are, I felt the district had to take action to reduce the spread of COVID in our community and schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon. “The state has taken some options out of our hands, but this is something we can do to protect students and staff.”

The district will continue to work with the Health Department to offer free vaccinations for students and staff. That includes vaccine clinics at schools during the school day. The district is also working on an agreement with the Alachua County Education Association, which represents district employees, to offer a $100 incentive for employees who are already vaccinated and those who get vaccinated by September 17.

“By taking these steps, I believe we can keep more of our students in school and more of our employees at work,” wrote Simon in an email to employees. “More importantly, we can reduce the number of people affected by COVID. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

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GAINESVILLE – Motorists traveling U.S. 441 through Paynes Prairie next week should expect a traffic shift as construction crews prepare to start a new phase of the road resurfacing project.

One lane of northbound traffic is scheduled to be shifted to the newly rebuilt northbound lanes on Monday, August 2, weather and unforeseen circumstances permitting. Currently, traffic is configured in a way that both directions of travel are on the southbound side of the roadway while the northbound lanes were being reconstructed and repaved.

By the end of the month, it is expected that both directions of travel will be moved to the newly paved northbound side of the roadway, which will allow crews to reconstruct the southbound side of the U.S. 441.

The $13.9 million project is expected to be completed in Spring 2022. The approximately 12-mile resurfacing project, which takes place between Southwest Williston Road (State Road 331) and the Marion County line, also includes the addition of guardrail through Paynes Prairie and additional signal and lighting upgrades at County Road 234 in Micanopy.

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GAINESVILLE – Members of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors® (GACAR) gathered at Splitz Bowling Alley on Thursday, July 29, to enjoy a night of friendly competition to conclude weeks of fundraising for charity.

At the time of publication, GACAR has raised $18,065 to help St. Francis House and Arbor House update their playgrounds and facilities. “We are so appreciative and grateful that GACAR selected St. Francis House and Arbor House for their annual charity event this year,” said Lauri Schiffbauer, Executive Director of St. Francis House.

“Proceeds raised will go toward enhancing our existing playgrounds for the children in our programs. We cannot thank GACAR enough for helping us provide a fun and safe play area, where the children can be kids with no worries!”

St. Francis House and Arbor House provide homeless women and families with children the tools needed to obtain permanent, sustainable housing. Because of the support of the surrounding community, St. Francis House, Inc. was able to house 108 families and over 150 children in 2020. Patti Moser, 2021 GACAR President, was on hand to celebrate the association’s first in-person event since the pandemic. “I am incredibly proud of our members and business partners and how quickly and enthusiastically they have mobilized. It is an honor to work with and help St. Francis House and Arbor House continue their efforts to aid families in need of safe and stable housing.”

For more information on how GACAR supports local housing charities and affordable housing efforts, contact 2021 GACAR President Patti Moser at 352-538-1773 or president@gacar.com.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Due to increased infection rates, the Alachua County COVID-19 Dashboard has returned with the latest COVID-19 infection and vaccination information. The link will be available on the home page of the Alachua County website and will be released weekly on social media. The source of the data is the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Weekly Situation Reports. This report replaced the daily reports on June 11, 2021.

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GAINESVILLE — After a hiatus last year due to the pandemic, the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors® (GACAR) is proud to host its seventh annual charity bowling tournament at Splitz Bowling Alley today (July 29th) from 5:00pm to 8:00pm . This year’s tournament is benefitting St. Francis House and Arbor House, charities that focus on assisting homeless women and families with children on their journey to have stable and permanent housing. At the time of publication, GACAR has raised $15,700.00 to help repair and improve the playground facilities at both charitable organizations. Below is a tentative timeline for the event, please note we currently have the check presentation to St. Francis House scheduled for 7:00pm tonight.

5:00pm

·        Registration Open

·        Networking for Members

5:15pm

·        Practice Bowling

5:30pm

·        Welcome/Announcements

·        1st Game begins

7:00pm

·        Check Presentation

·        50/50 winner

8:00pm

·        Event conclusion

For more information on how GACAR supports local housing charities and affordable housing efforts, please contact 2021 GACAR President Patti Moser at (352) 538-1773 or president@gacar.com.

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GAINESVILLE — Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) gathered today with dignitaries, community leaders, well-wishers and staff to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony for its 15,200 square foot, two-gate passenger terminal expansion and improvement project, less than two years after breaking ground.

The expanded terminal provides a variety of passenger amenities and services to accommodate increased passenger traffic and demand. New amenities include expanded restrooms, a second food and beverage area, mother’s lactation room, quiet/reflection room, an outdoor pet relief area, and connectivity features in every passenger chair.

In his opening comments to guests, GNV’s CEO Allan Penksa expressed gratitude to those who have “been instrumental in shaping the vision for this great community asset,” and paid homage to the local construction teams “working hard through all types of conditions” to realize the almost $16 million project that is part of the airport’s master plan.

“This project has been years in the making and is an important milestone in our continuing efforts to provide high quality air service and passenger facilities to our region,” Mr. Penksa said. “The fact that all involved were able to do this so well and uninterrupted despite the challenges of a worldwide pandemic is simply amazing.”

Gainesville Alachua County Regional Airport Authority (GACRAA) Chairwoman Grace Horvath said as the community comes out of the pandemic, passengers are truly responding to the airport’s enhanced service and GNV’s “Fly Easy” experience. “Beyond the capacity improvements and ability to support new service, this project provides an even more beautiful front door to our region, one we can all be proud of.”

The terminal expansion was paid for by a combination of state and federal grants, along with passenger facility charges, or PFCs collected by the airport’s carriers, Delta and American Airlines. The terminal expansion and boarding bridges are the second and third phases of terminal investment, with final phases including additional parking options, new outbound, baggage screening/ handling system and additional airline operations space to better accommodate existing and future carriers.

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TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Licensing has announced the suspension of 22 licenses held by individuals involved in the insurrection.

The FDACS Division of Licensing administers Florida’s concealed weapon licensing program and oversees Florida’s private investigative, private security and recovery services industries. The division’s regulatory oversight of private investigative, private security and recovery services includes licensing, enforcing compliance standards, and ensuring public protection from unethical business practices and unlicensed activity.

“The deeply disturbing events that occurred at our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 were sedition, treason, and domestic terrorism – and those individuals involved in the insurrection must be held accountable for attempting to subvert our democratic process,” said Commissioner Fried. “Since charges began being filed, we are using our lawful authority to immediately suspend the licenses of 22 individuals involved in the storming of the U.S. Capitol. This is an ongoing effort, and as charges and sentences continue in the wake of this despicable attack, we will further suspend and revoke any additional licenses granted to insurrectionists.”

The FDACS Division of Licensing has the ability to immediately suspend a license if the licensee is charged with a felony or certain other disqualifying offenses. Once a judgement is rendered, if the sentence disqualifies, FDACS can revoke the license.

Pursuant to Section 790.0601, Florida Statutes, FDACS can neither confirm nor deny whether an individual has ever applied for or received a concealed weapon or firearm license, as this information is exempt from disclosure as a public record.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Reef Safe Act of 2021, legislation that would help protect our oceans and marine ecosystems from potentially harmful chemicals found in some types of sunscreen by creating Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for the use of “Reef Safe” and “Ocean Safe” labels in the marketing of sunscreens. Congressmen Carlos Giménez (R-FL) and Ed Case (D-HI) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“Florida’s coral reefs and coastal ecosystems are foundational to Florida’s economic, ecological, and cultural character, and protecting them is vital,” Rubio said. “Establishing science-based definitions for “reef safe” and “ocean safe” will protect consumers from false or misleading product claims, and allow Americans to make informed decisions to help preserve critical marine habitats.”

“Like many Oregonians, I have many great memories with my family at the Oregon Coast, walking up and down the shore, collecting seashells, and checking out the fascinating sea life in the tide pools,” Merkley said. “The last thing any of us want is to accidentally harm that sea life by wearing toxic chemicals in our sunscreen. This simple bill will help us choose the best products both for our skin protection and for sea life protection.”

“Hawai‘i has been a national leader in preserving our precious coral reefs, including by enacting the first state-wide ban on certain chemicals harmful to those reefs,” Case said. “This legislation would help all consumers across the country make informed choices regarding their sunscreen use and assist state and local jurisdictions like Hawai‘i enforce their regulations. We all have a role to play as stewards of our oceans and marine resources for future generations, and this bill simply makes it easier for us to meet our obligation to our oceans and earth.”  

“Florida’s aquatic ecosystems are crucial to the well-being of our state. They serve an incredibly important part of our local economy in Florida’s 26th congressional district and play a vital role in the identity of South Florida’s communities,” Giménez said. “That is why I am teaming up with my colleagues to ensure that any and all preservation measures, including warning labels on consumer products that may have an impact on our aquatic ecosystems, are accurate and science-based.”

The legislation would require the FDA, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to develop a criteria that must be used in order for sunscreen to be labelled “Reef Safe'' and “Ocean Safe.” The criteria would be required to take into consideration the impacts on species including fish, sea urchins, corals, crustaceans, sea grasses, and macroalgae such as kelp, each of which play a vital role in the health of marine ecosystems. Additionally, the FDA would be required to reevaluate labelling criteria every 10 years, to ensure labelling criteria are based on the best-available science.

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TALLAHASSEE - It will be more than just a trip to the sands of the Gulf of Mexico for those who happen to be visiting Pier Park in Panama City Beach, the weekend of August 13-15.

Not only will the 1,500 foot Russell-Fields City Pier, one of the area's most popular attractions, beckon visitors out over the water, but it will be a perfect vantage point for spectators to watch Sunshine State Games Beach Volleyball.

The 2021 Sunshine State Games International Beach Games features three sports, Beach Soccer, Beach Volleyball and Highland Games, the weekend of August 13-15.  Athletes have one week remaining to register for the sports of the 2021 Beach Games and be a part of the first Sunshine State Games event in Northwest Florida in the 42-year history of the Games.

The registration deadline is Saturday, August 7 and entry fees vary by sport. Visit  https://sunshinestate.fusesport.com/registration/1505/ to register.

The three days of Beach Volleyball features competition for Boy’s and Girl’s Junior Divisions, beginning at 14 and Under through Men’s and Women’s Open Divisions.  Two-person and four-person coed teams will be competing on the 10 regulation beach volleyball courts, on the East side of the City Pier, with a backdrop of the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The sand courts have been the home to several Extreme Volleyball Professionals (EVP) tournaments, including the June, 2020 AVPNext Panama Jack Summer Slam Tournament, with current Olympian Nick Lucena among the athletes.

“There have been some great people who have played on Panama City Beach,” said Sport Director Craig Lenninger, of Marineland, who has directed EVP Tournaments over the years at Pier Park. “It will also be a good for players who want to enjoy the beach and have a good time.”

The schedule for Sunday, August 15, also features King and Queen of the Beach competition for the Junior and Open Divisions.  Players sign up as individuals and are paired with different players throughout the afternoon.  The individual player with the most wins and points among the paired teams are declared the King and Queen of the Beach.

“It’s a great way to meet new people and possibly find a new teammate for those who don’t have a regular doubles teammate,” Lenninger said. “During the course of play with four or five different teammates, players also have a chance to pick up new skills.”

Besides the Beach Volleyball at Pier Park, Highland Games events will be held across the street at Aaron Bessant Park on Saturday, August 14.

A few miles down the beach to the east, Beach Soccer will be played at the M.B. Miller County Pier on Saturday, August 14 and Sunday, August 15. Prospective Beach Soccer players can learn more about the sport at a Free Clinic, on Friday evening, beginning at 5:00 p.m.

2021 Sunshine State Games International Beach Games Schedule of Events
Friday, August 13
5:00 p.m. – Free Beach Soccer Player and Officials Clinic, M.B. Miller County Pier
TBD – Beach Volleyball. Juniors Division competition, Pier Park

Saturday, August 14
8:00 a.m. – Beach Volleyball, Men’s and Women’s Open Doubles competition, Pier Park
9:00 a.m. – Beach Soccer, M.B. Miller County Pier
9:00 a.m. – Highland Games, Aaron Bessant Park

Sunday, August 15
9:00 a.m. – Beach Volleyball, Coed and King of the Beach competition, Pier Park
9:00 a.m. – Beach Soccer, M.B. Miller County Pier

For more information about the 2021 Sunshine State Games International Beach Games, presented in conjunction with Visit Panama City Beach, please visit, www.sunshinestategames.com/beach-games

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JUPITER, FL — In a move designed to marry the clinical and educational expertise of the state’s flagship university with one of the world’s premier biomedical research enterprises, the University of Florida and Scripps Research today announced they are in talks to integrate the Florida-based branch of Scripps Research with the research arm of UF’s academic health center.

Discussions have proceeded swiftly because UF is ideally positioned to expand on Scripps Florida’s successful research track record to accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that improve outcomes for patients in the state and around the world, said officials from both organizations.

“Our shared vision for propelling biomedical research forward is based on the great mutual respect our two institutions have for each other,” said Peter Schultz, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Scripps Research, based in La Jolla, California.

“UF is an outstanding partner for Scripps Florida — the two institutions have complementary basic and translational research capabilities and strengths which, when combined, will enhance their collective reputation and impact on Florida,” Schultz added. “We have built an outstanding research institute in Scripps Florida with generous support from the state and from local communities and we believe it will have its biggest impact on Florida and greatest opportunity for further growth as part of UF, one of the country’s leading research and educational institutions.”

Details of the agreement will be finalized over the next few months and will build on existing research collaborations UF has had with Scripps and the organizations’ complementary strengths, said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health, the university’s academic health center.

Initial efforts include appointing key leadership positions; UF and Scripps Research plan to name Patrick Griffin, Ph.D., to head the scientific arm of the new research endeavor. Griffin is currently chair of the department of molecular medicine at Scripps Florida and directs its Translational Research Institute.

“Our shared vision focuses on improving the health of humanity and developing innovations to optimize quality of life,” Nelson said. “With this venture, we will both be positioned to take medical research to the next level in a way that is win-win for the people of Florida and beyond.”

The 30-acre Scripps Florida campus in Jupiter is situated within Palm Beach County’s innovation corridor and houses more than 40 faculty-led laboratories supported by a 500-member team dedicated to understanding an array of illnesses and seeking to generate effective treatments. Its researchers are regularly heralded for their pioneering discoveries that have led to hundreds of patents and numerous spinoff companies. Scripps Florida has a robust research portfolio, with nearly $50 million in National Institutes of Health funding and over $67 million in total research funding, which includes industry support.

UF ranks among the top research-intensive public universities in the country, with research expenditures totaling more than $942 million during the past fiscal year.

Over time, the relationship will generate additional jobs, further catalyzing economic development, officials said. Other natural areas of collaboration could potentially include cancer, drug discovery, immunology and infectious disease, neuroscience (including Alzheimer’s disease and other aging-related disorders), and structural biology and molecular medicine.

UF President Kent Fuchs said the deal opens the door to building off Scripps Research’s platform of excellence and teaming up with other State University System institutions such as Florida Atlantic and Florida International universities on various programs.

“This would be the next logical step, adding to the impact Scripps Research has already made in Florida,” Fuchs said. “They have been great stewards of the state’s investment in biotech, and we look forward to partnering on this next phase to add value and grow additional research and tech collaborations.”

“This news is welcome because it aligns with the commitment of Florida’s public universities to work together for the greater good,” said John Kelly, Ph.D., president of Florida Atlantic University. “FAU is looking forward to expanding on our existing collaborations with UF and Scripps Florida by identifying educational and research opportunities that leverage our shared strengths. These include exploring common interests in areas like autism, neuroscience, molecular biology and data science to advance medicine.”

Recent academic health collaborations with FAU span at least seven colleges at UF on a range of topics. Highlights include the 1Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, which UF leads in collaboration with FAU and others. The 1Florida ADRC received a five-year $15 million NIH grant in 2020 to expand its work with a heightened focus on further understanding dementias in diverse populations. In addition, UF and FAU collaborate on the NIH-funded National Drug Early Warning System coordinating center to identify emerging drug abuse trends.

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TALLAHASSEE – Today, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the state agency that regulates and inspects Florida’s gas stations and fuel pumps, is strongly encouraging Floridians to consider adding a fuel plan to annual hurricane preparations.

Surges in consumer demand due to hurricanes can cause disruptions in Florida’s fuel distribution system. Early preparation by consumers will reduce the strain on fuel distribution, ensure fuel is available as needed, and reduce the cost of fuels that can increase due to sudden higher demand.

“We have all seen how panic-buying and sudden surges in demand for gas can cause disruptions to the fuel supply – which unfortunately happened earlier this year following the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline,” said Commissioner Nikki Fried. “Just as we encourage preparing for your family’s food, water, medical, and power needs before there is an imminent storm threat, we are also encouraging Floridians to keep their vehicles and generators fueled up throughout hurricane season. We can all take simple preparatory steps to help prevent a rush at the gas pump when hurricanes threaten, lessening the likelihood of potential supply shortages and pricing issues.”

Click here to download a sharable graphic with tips on fuel preparations and safety during hurricane season.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) recommends the following tips for hurricane preparedness, along with important fuel safety reminders:

  • Keep all vehicles at least half full during hurricane season.
  • Keep at least one vehicle filled with gasoline once the earliest predictions indicate a storm may threaten the state.
  • Pre-purchase fuels (LP gas and gasoline) for generators at the start of hurricane season – properly stored fuels will last at least six months, and can be transferred into a vehicle for use should no emergency arise
  • Use gasoline fuel stabilizer to keep gasoline fresh and ready to use when it is needed.

Fuel Safety:

  • Refill fuel containers on the ground, not in the truck bed or trunk.
  • Transport and store fuel ONLY in appropriate containers – look for DOT approved containers that close tightly and do not leak.
  • NEVER store or transport gasoline in milk jugs or open top containers.
  • Store fuel in a safe and well-ventilated location.

Report Outages/Quality: To report fuel outages or quality issues before or after a hurricane, consumers should contact the department’s Division of Consumer Services at 1-800-HELP-FLA, 1-800-FL-AYUDA en Español, or FloridaConsumerHelp.com.

FDACS is Florida’s state consumer protection agency, responsible for handling consumer complaints, protecting against unfair and unsafe business practices, and more. FDACS handles over 400,000 consumer complaints and inquiries annually, oversees more than 500,000 regulated devices, entities, and products like gas pumps and grocery scales, performs over 61,000 lab analyses on products like gasoline and brake fluid, performs nearly 9,000 fair ride inspections, and returned over $2.8 million to consumers through mediations with businesses last year.

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FORT LAUDERDALE/DAVIE – After a nearly seven-month journey spanning more than a combined 29,100 miles, Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) has announced the winners of The Great Shark Race 2021, which began in January and ended at midnight on Shark Awareness Day, July 14.

The Great Shark Race 2021 was divided into two races: (1) shortfin makos, the fastest marine creatures on the planet that can swim up to 44 miles per hour, and (2) whale sharks, the gigantic shark species (the largest fish in the ocean), which, not surprisingly, are some of the slowest swimmers.

The wining makos, which traveled a combined 8,900+ miles, are:

  • Cuddles, sponsored by Penmanship, was declared the victor with 3,207 miles logged, followed closely by;
  • Caison, sponsored by Certified Contracting Group, Inc., traveling 3,073 miles; and
  • Fishangler, sponsored by Fishangler App, which finished third with 2,627 miles.

As for the whale shark category, there was an interesting “side race” within the division that pitted NBC national news anchor Lester Holt against NBC reporter Kerry Sanders, who is known for his affinity for sharks. Lester beat out Kerry, 4,718.73 miles to 3,058.14 miles.

The whale shark finished as follows:

As different as they may seem in terms of size and speed, both shark species in the Great Shark Race have something in common – they are endangered. The main goal of this unusual race is to further key scientific research aimed at saving these and other endangered shark species.

“Everyone loves a contest, so we thought this could be a great, fun, engaging way to raise public awareness about the dire status of both these endangered shark species and an effective way to attract sponsors to further fund this long-term research. The announcement was timed to Shark Week when the spotlight shines brightest on sharks,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of NSU’s GHRI and Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center. “From the work we’ve done, we know that both these species can travel up to 12,000 miles in one year so our goal is to use new data to understand where they go, when they go and potentially why they travel to these specific locations.”

The latest in ocean wildlife tracking technology was used to measure race results. A fin-mounted SPOT satellite tag on each shark allowed them to be tracked in near real time on the GHRI Race Tracking Website. These SPOT tags relayed crucial data back to researchers, including the distance that each shark covered as they swam around the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea.

The presenting sponsor for each race category were FishAngler App for the makos and The Moss Foundation for the whale sharks. In addition to the companies Certified Contracting Group, Inc., Advanced Green Technologies, Crawford Roofing, Inc., Miller Glass & Glazing, Inc., and Boatyard Restaurant, individual shark sponsors were Penmanship and Gordon James III.

“As we continue the long-term project of working with GHRI researchers at NSU, we learn more and more how important sharks are to preserving healthy ocean ecosystems,” said world-renowned artist, conservationist and scientist Dr. Guy Harvey, chairman of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which conducts scientific research and hosts educational programs aimed at conserving the marine environment, ensuring that future generations can enjoy and benefit from a properly balanced ocean ecosystem. “The Great Shark Race 2021 was a success and brought in much needed funds to continue our research. We sincerely thank all who supported us during this race. It is an amazing educational opportunity and a critical research initiative.”

According to NSU’s GHRI research, up to 73 million sharks a year end up in the global shark fin trade, and some estimates say that annually approximately 100 million sharks are removed from the world’s oceans. Case in point: approximately 30% of the mako sharks tagged by NSU’s GHRI research scientists have been lost. These are clearly not sustainable numbers, and it should alarm everyone. It’s why creating awareness about this issue is more important than ever.

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With Memorial Day behind us and Independence Day on the horizon, I’m happy to report that our state parks have never been more popular.

Our beaches – two of which were recently named among the 10 best in America by beach guru Dr. Beach – and our springs have attracted a record number of visitors, and we expect that trend to continue in the weeks and months ahead.

Not only that, but our campsites are filling up too as more people discover the joys of camping and RVing.

As it turns out, now is a great time to plan an overnight stay. June is National Camping Month, and the Florida Park Service has just launched a new reservation system that provides our visitors with quicker, easier access to their favorite parks.

The new system shows clearly which parks and sites are available for camping and provides online users with a streamlined process for making reservations. Additionally, campers can now reserve same-day accommodations, which is something that we’ve been wanting to implement for a long time.

The changes will also be apparent at each park’s ranger station, as we’ve updated our point-of-sale system to be more modernized and, most importantly, faster. That means less time at the park gates and more time inside the park.

You might also notice welcome additions such as the ability to be notified when a site becomes available. And, in the future, we’ll be looking to add expanded reservation capabilities for Florida residents.

When thinking about your favorite parks, you might remember an unforgettable paddling adventure or boat tour. But take a moment to consider the park operations needed to offer our visitors the best experiences possible.

Food sales, camp stores, kayak rentals, ferries and trams are services that we could not provide if not for a specially selected group of businesses – many of them owned locally. These companies and their employees are a part of our park community, and they’re just as committed as regular park staff to making your visit safe and enjoyable.

The business that helps us with reservations is just one of our partners that help make 800,000 acres, 30 springs and 100 miles of beaches special places to visit.     

Eric Draper

Director, Florida State Parks

 

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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is on June 15. On this day, and throughout the month, communities, seniors, caregivers, governments, organizations, and the private sector unite to prevent the mistreatment of and violence against older people.

Social Security imposter scams are widespread across the United States. Scammers use sophisticated tactics to deceive you into providing sensitive information or money. They target everyone – even the elderly – and their tactics continue to evolve.

Most recently, Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has received reports of phone scammers creating fake versions of the identification badges most Federal employees use to gain access to Federal buildings. The scammers may text or email photos of the fake badges to convince potential victims of their legitimacy. These badges use government symbols, words, and even names and photos of real people, which are available on government websites or through internet searches.

If you receive a suspicious letter, text, email, or call, hang up or do not respond. You should know how to identify when it’s really Social Security. We will NEVER:

  • Text or email images of an employee’s official government identification.
  • Suspend your Social Security number.
  • Threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee.
  • Require payment by retail gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or cash by mail.
  • Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment.
  • Send official letters or reports containing your personal information via email.

We only send text messages if you have opted in to receive texts from us and only in limited situations, including the following:

  • When you have subscribed to receive updates and notifications by text.
  • As part of our enhanced security when accessing your personal my Social Security account.

If you owe money to us, we will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights.

We encourage you to report suspected Social Security imposter scams — and other Social Security fraud — to the OIG website at oig.ssa.gov. You may read our previous Social Security fraud advisories at oig.ssa.gov/newsroom/news-release. Please share this information with your friends and family to help spread awareness about Social Security imposter scams.

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The first drug developed to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD), the modern term for alcoholism, was disulfiram (Antabuse). Today disulfiram is still used, but as a second line William Garst HSdrug behind acamprosate (Campral) and naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol). Disulfiram works by blocking the enzymatic breakdown of alcohol and allowing a metabolite to build up in the blood, producing very unpleasant effects. People taking disulfiram will be deterred from ingesting alcohol because they know they will become very ill. The drug is used as an aid to help alcoholics overcome their cravings and addiction.

Disulfiram (a compound that contains sulfur) was first synthesized in 1881 as an industrial chemical, and in the early 1900s was introduced in the manufacturing of rubber. Adding sulfur in rubber manufacturing produces varying degrees of hardness in the final rubber compound.

During the late 1930s sulfur compounds, including disulfiram, were being investigated because of the antimicrobial effects of drugs containing sulfur, and the search was intense. Two scientists at the Danish firm of Medicinalco, Erik Jacobson and Jens Hald, began investigating disulfiram for treatment of intestinal parasites. This company had a group of employees called the “Death Battalion” who would experiment on themselves.

During this phase of testing the drug on themselves, they discovered they became ill after ingesting alcohol. This discovery was made in 1945, but a few years later disulfiram was considered to be used in the treatment of alcoholism as an aversive-reaction drug therapy. Jacobson and Hald’s work was finally published in 1948 and disulfiram was approved by the FDA in 1951.

The discovery of disulfiram led to a renewed interest in the metabolism of alcohol in the body. It was known alcohol was metabolized in the liver and broken down to acetaldehyde then to acetic acid and carbon dioxide by unknown enzymes. In 1950 it was discovered that disulfiram blocked the action of the enzyme that converts acetaldehyde, thus causing an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the bloodstream, which is the cause of the unpleasant effects.

Effects that occur when disulfiram is taken with alcohol include flushing, sweating, nausea and vomiting, chest pain, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. One should not take disulfiram within 12 hours of alcohol ingestion or 14 days from the last dose of the drug. In addition, products that contain alcohol such as aftershave, cologne, perfume, antiperspirant, and mouthwash can produce unpleasant reactions for people taking Antabuse. Other products to avoid are paint thinners, solvents, and stains, along with dyes, resins and waxes, because even small amounts of alcohol absorbed through the skin can produce the effects.

Other drugs can produce adverse reactions, commonly called the “antabuse-like reaction.” The most notable of these drugs are metronidazole (Flagyl, an antibiotic), griseofulvin (an antifungal), and some cephalosporin antibiotics. If a drug is known to have this side effect, it should be pointed out to the patient by the prescriber and the pharmacist. Always read the drug information given to you when starting a new medication that tells you about side effects that may occur and how to avoid them.

Substance abuse of any kind is not good, but alcohol abuse has been especially devastating to society, families, and individuals because of the convenient availability, relative inexpensiveness, and its association with festivities. In addition, the abuse of alcohol leads to lack of inhibitions and unpredictable behaviors, which are many times violent and destructive. When people take disulfiram, they are acknowledging their problem, and they know that very unpleasant reactions will occur if alcohol is consumed, thus it helps to deter the first drink.

The history of disulfiram is still being written. Currently, it is being studied to treat certain cancers, parasitic infections, HIV, and Covid-19.

Stay informed and stay healthy.

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William Garst is a consultant pharmacist who resides in Alachua, Florida. He received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Auburn University in 1975. He earned a master’s degree in Public Health in 1988 from the University of South Florida and a Master’s in Pharmacy from UF in 2001. In 2007, he received his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado. Dr. Garst is a member of many national, state, and local professional associations. He serves on the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board and stays active as a relief pharmacist. In 2016, he retired from the VA. Dr. Garst enjoys golf, reading (especially history), and family. He writes a blog called The Pharmacy Newsletter (https://thepharmacynewsletter.com/). William Garst can be contacted at communitypharmac
ynewsletter@gmail.com.

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When learning the ropes — and rods — of saltwater fishing, thorough preparation involves more than just a rich arsenal of gear and the appropriate attire. Open-water fishing is challenging and requires technique and prior research.  

If you’re embarking on an open-water adventure for the first time, keep the following saltwater fishing tips in mind.  

Research Your Destination

The key to discovering a spot rich in saltwater fish is ample research. At least a week before your trip, you’ll want to read up on fishing reports, tide charts and weather forecasts.  

For instance, while a rainy morning might deter most anglers, it can also surprise you with better catches — if you know where to look. 

Some areas are more crowded with fishing enthusiasts during different times of the year. Consider whether you are traveling in the spring, summer, fall or winter and do the appropriate research. You can get some ideas of  where to go at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “Where to Saltwater Fish.”

Think About Your Target Species

The type of catch you’re after will dictate where you anchor your boat. Targets, such as yellowfin or other tunas, for instance, are surface feeders. Thus, you’ll want to be on the lookout for weed lines and baitfish breaking the surface.  

On the other hand, some species including groupers and snappers are bottom feeders and prefer structures including reefs and wrecks. Angling for these species can require special equipment, such as a fishfinder, circle hooks, dehooking tools, descending devices and more. MyFWC.com/FishHandling explains much of this fishing gear.    

Stay up to date on the latest regulations for saltwater fishing at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “Recreational Regulations” or by downloading the Fish Rules app on your smart device. Learn about fish identification at MyFWC.com/FishingLines or by visiting MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “Fish Identification.”

Use a Bathymetric Map

When it comes to open-water angling, you can never underestimate the usefulness of a map. Bathymetric maps are a type of underwater topographic map that indicates specific depths. Space between lines on the map illustrates whether an area is close to a steep slope, drop off, flat or shoal. Lines that are close together indicate a rapidly changing depth in the area. 

Keep in mind that bathymetric maps can be challenging to find at your local angling shop. If you have trouble coming across a bathymetric map, you can rely on other tools, such as nautical charts or satellite images.    

Speak to the Locals

While ample internet research might suffice, nothing quite compares to gathering input from local anglers. When you have a specific target species in mind, drop by the local bait shop for advice. Or join an online group focused on fishing in your area of interest. 

Some angling hot spots have knowledgeable fishing guides who can direct you to the ideal area for your specific catch. Hop on a trip for a chance to see the area up close with an expert who can teach you how to catch your target species. 

Alternatively, you can venture out into the ocean yourself and observe where other anglers are setting up shop. Just be sure to mind your distance and not crowd other anglers. Learn more about angler etiquette at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “On-the-Water Etiquette.”

Make the Most of Angling Technology

Nowadays, you won’t find any shortage of state-of-the-art angling technology available online and at your local bait shop. Make sure that a reliable fish finder is part of your staple arsenal.  

Fish finders use sonar to locate fish within your chosen area. When an echo transmits back to your device, it indicates the presence of fish immediately under or around your vessel. Some wireless fish finders are Bluetooth compatible and will quickly pair with your Android or iOS device.  

You'll want to consider other staple needs for open-water fishing: GPS, VHF 2-way radio, flares, noise-making device, first aid kit and life jacket for each person on board. Wearing a life jacket while on the water is a simple way to prevent you from drowning if you fall overboard due to a boating accident. Learn more about boating requirements and safety at MyFWC.com/Boating. Find more tips and tricks at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “How to Saltwater Fish.”

The Bottom Line

If you have recently taken an interest in saltwater fishing, knowing how to target your intended catch will go a long way in the open water. Make the most of your day out by researching your destination beforehand, coming well-equipped, and learning how to identify different kinds of saltwater fish. Consider sharing your catches with scientists through the iAngler app and submitting catches for recognition at FWC’s CatchaFloridaMemory.com

About the Author

Kenneth is an expert at saltwater fishing and the founder of Perfect Captain. He has been angling for over two decades and hopes to provide accessible resources for fishing rookies and veterans.

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Remember the old adage “April showers bring May flowers?” In Florida, April is typically a dry month when water demands are higher due to springtime planting and low rainfall amounts. For 22 years, April has been recognized as Water Conservation Month in Florida, a designation to heighten public awareness about the many ways we can reduce our water use until summer thunderstorms arrive.

Each spring, a renewed focus on our lawns and landscapes make it an ideal time to inspect our automatic sprinkler systems and timers. The St. Johns River Water Management District’s seasonal “Did You Set It and Forget It” message is a timely springtime reminder to give your automatic sprinkler system a checkup for leaks, timer adjustments, replacing the rain sensor battery and other maintenance.

The District’s annual Water Less outdoor water conservation campaign promotes easy ways to make water conservation part of your regular routine at home.

Consider this: More than half of all residential water is used outdoors for lawn and landscape irrigation. Studies show that up to half of that water can be saved and isn’t necessary for native and Florida-friendly plants to thrive.

Individually and collectively, you make a big difference when you take control of your water use. In fact, between 2010 and 2019, gross per capita water use in the St. Johns District decreased 12 percent, from 132 gallons per person per day to 116 gallons per person per day.

Changing old habits doesn’t have to be hard. Just follow our five easy ways to save water outdoors: Adhere to the District’s watering restrictions. Give your sprinkler system regular checkups and turn it off if there is rain in the forecast. Use water-efficient smart irrigation technology and replace thirsty landscape materials with drought-tolerant “waterwise” plants. Our waterwise plant database at www.sjrwmd.com/water-conservation/waterwise-landscaping is simple to access and use, too.

Year-round water conservation is an important way to help meet the state’s water supply needs, and you can still maintain a healthy and beautiful Florida landscape.

We’re grateful to all those helping us raise awareness of the small behavior changes that can lead to big water savings. I ask you to spend a few minutes visiting the District’s water conservation campaign website, WaterLessFlorida.com, to learn how you too can make a difference.

Ann Shortelle, Ph.D.

Executive Director

St. Johns River Water Management District

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Each year, thousands of Florida children enter foster care due to domestic violence.

And each October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, children's advocates like me remind the public that this scourge devastates children, families and communities – and we must respond.

For children, witnessing intimate partner violence can cause lifetime harm. It makes them more prone to addiction and at greater risk for dating violence, academic problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, aggression, and chronic physical health and developmental problems. They find it harder to interact well with peers, partners and, ultimately, with their own children.

They worry about the safety of their parents – which no child should have to do. Yet millions of children witness the abuse of a parent or caregiver each year. And males who batter their wives batter their children 30 to 60 percent of the time.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement data for 2019 show 105,298 domestic violence incidences and 66,069 domestic violence arrests. That year, according to the Department of Children and Families, there were 87,546 allegations of household violence or intimate partner violence received by the Florida Abuse Hotline.

In the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties, there were 169 dependent children from violent homes in the system as of August.

We also know violent households often involve substance abuse or mental illness as well, and that the combination heightens the harm done by each. What's more, child witnesses of intimate partner violence are at increased risk to become abusers or victims themselves.

So the cycle must be broken, and that is what we are trying to do at the Guardian ad Litem Program. We know the single most critical factor in how children weather their exposure to domestic violence is the presence of at least one loving, supportive adult in their lives.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers represent abused and neglected children in dependency court. We know their challenges. We also know children can recover from trauma given the right services and supports, and we advocate for trauma-informed, evidence-based screening, assessment and treatment.

We also work to support the child's relationship with his or her non-offending parent. For most children, a strong relationship with that parent is a key factor in helping them heal.

And as their advocates, we work to tell children the violence is not their fault and to show them they are lovable, competent and important.

Help us break the cycle.

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or become a volunteer, please contact Riley Ashmore-Volunteer Recruiter at (352) 384-3167 or visit www.GAL8Circuit.org.

To get help, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119, or find your local domestic violence program at www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/domestic-violence/map.shtml. Florida's 41 certified domestic violence centers served more than 10,000 victims between March and June 2020, and they remain open and available to serve.

Angela Armstrong, Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director

for Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties

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ALACHUA ‒ As the baby boomer generation rapidly approaches retirement age, the U.S. is projected to experience a radical demographic shift. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about one in five residents in the U.S. will reach retirement age (over 65) by the 2030s. For the first time in U.S. history, seniors will soon outnumber children under 18.

This aging of the population will have far-reaching economic and social ramifications, especially when it comes to healthcare needs. Specifically, diseases that typically affect the elderly will become more prevalent in the U.S. One of the most common illnesses among people over the age of 65 is Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is a neurocognitive disorder that affects a person’s memory. Alzheimer’s typically starts with mild memory loss and sometimes progresses to hindering a person’s speech, thought process, and ability to respond to his/her surroundings. It is an agonizing decline for both the patient and the family as they slowly lose their memory and recognition of their loved ones. The exact cause of the disease is unknown and it currently has no cure.

Currently more than 5 million Americans, accounting for 11 percent of adults suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The onset of the disease usually occurs after the age of 60, and the risk of Alzheimer’s increases significantly with age. Unlike other medical conditions associated with aging, such as heart attacks, strokes or cancer, the development of Alzheimer’s disease is often a much slower insidious process. But the disease can still result in death. In 2017, more than 120,000 deaths were a result of Alzheimer’s disease. Of these cases, 80,000 were among Americans over the age of 85.

Alzheimer’s effects go far beyond the mortality rate. It's financial burden on society and families of the patient can be devastating. Not only does the disease affect individual patients, but also their family members and taxpayers who fund government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that in 2018, the total cost of treating Alzheimer’s disease—including assisted living facilities, home health care, and other medical treatment—was around $277 billion. The association estimates these costs will more than double by 2035 and continue rising as the 65+ population reaches more than 85 million by 2050.

Florida has the third highest Alzheimer rate in America and affects 13 percent of the 65 or older population. People may live eight to 10 years after diagnosis, with some living as long as 20 years.

For the past 30 years, a nonprofit organization called Compassion & Choices has been working to improve patient rights and individual choice at the end of life, including access to medical aid in dying. Its primary function is advocating for and ensuring access to end-of-life options and allowing the patient to determine whether they want continued medical care in the condition they are in.

The organization provides end-of-life consultation for dying patients and their families at no cost. Professional consultants and trained volunteers work by phone or in person to offer assistance in completing advance directives, make referrals to local services, including Hospice and illness-specific support groups, advice on adequate pain and symptom management, and information on safe, effective and legal methods for aid in dying. But planning for end-of-life care with dementia should happen earlier before a dementia diagnosis, or at the early stages of a diagnosis, before thinking and speaking abilities fail.

Compassion and Choices President/CEO Kim Callinan became an advocate for the organization due to her own experiences. She watched her grandmother slowly lose all cognizant abilities and face critical health issues while prolonging the process through medical intervention. “We didn't recognize that we were simply extending the time because we were refusing to let her go even though she had no idea who we were.” Later she had the opposite experience when her grandfather passed in Hospice with an advanced directive to stop medical care when the conclusion was it would not improve life, but simply extend his suffering. “We were able to be there with him while he could still relate to us as he passed,” Callinan said.

Callinan spent much of her professional career as a communications and social marketing expert but felt that she needed to do something geared more toward helping individuals and families cope with long-term health issues. Her experience with her own family shaped the direction she wanted to go with a nonprofit agency. Five years ago, she joined Compassion and Choices to advocate for letting people choose their own path in the fight against Alzheimer and dementia.

The program allows patients and families to make advanced directives on how they want to control their end of life. Advance planning involves making thoughtful decisions, putting them into a written advance directive, and discussing those decisions with loved ones and healthcare adviser, someone they can trust to advise medical providers about care preferences if the patient is unconscious or mentally incapable of speaking for yourself.

To help families and patients determine what and when to make these critical decisions, Compassion & Choices has developed an online program called Dementia Values & Priorities Tool, to address the reality of the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s.

Through a series of questions, this free online resource helps patients and families identify and document their care preferences in advance of a dementia diagnosis. It then creates a dementia health care directive to attach to an advance directive, so their health care proxy can carry out their personalized care plan.

Creating a dementia-specific advance care plan lifts the burden off of loved ones or patients to make difficult decisions when they can no longer speak for themselves. It helps people determine their healthcare wishes in advance, should they be diagnosed with dementia and allows people with dementia to stop medical treatment if they want, so they can die naturally if that is their wish.

A second online tool is the Dementia Decoder which allows patients and caregivers the ability to generate specific questions for doctors, nurses or other health providers. The questions are designed to get them the complete information they need to deal with Alzheimer’s. This tool also addresses other fatal illnesses like cancer so the patient can be fully informed on their condition.

“Our goal is to provide information that most people would not know how to address and to control their own end of life decisions and not prolong their suffering,” Callinan said. Information on both these tools can be found at the organizations website at: https://compassionandchoices.org.

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TALLAHASSEE — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced $50 million for more than 20 statewide springs restoration projects to aid the recovery and provide additional protection for Florida’s springs. These projects work in concert with increased monitoring, enforcement, and other measures to ensure compliance with best management practices implemented under the Governor’s leadership to improve water quality across the state.

“Florida’s springs are integral to both our economy and environment,” said Governor DeSantis. “Our state is home to more large springs than any other state in the nation and they serve as a fun source of recreation for our residents and visitors to enjoy. The projects announced today continue our mission to restore and protect our water quality throughout Florida.”

“Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ leadership, DEP is engaged in a broad suite of water quality improvement efforts across the state,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “Of particular importance to the state are those projects tied to springs restoration. This diverse selection of projects will be complemented and enhanced by Department initiatives to increase facility inspections, water quality monitoring, and enforcement.

“Florida’s springs are among our most precious water resources,” said Chief Science Officer Dr. Tom Frazer. “They reflect the quality of our drinking water and nourish some of the most iconic surface waters in the state. The projects announced by Governor DeSantis today are intended to increase spring flows and improve water quality so that these springs systems and the resources that they support can be accessed and enjoyed by generations to come.”

Springs provide a window into Florida’s vast groundwater system and are a barometer of the condition of the state’s primary source of drinking water. DEP and four Florida water management districts have identified a broad suite of projects that include land acquisition, septic to sewer conversion, and water quality improvement efforts, intended to increase aquifer recharge, improve spring flow, and protect downstream habitats all the way to the coast.

Many of the projects will benefit ongoing restoration efforts in springsheds. These restoration efforts reflect a collaborative effort with the department, water management districts, community leaders and local stakeholders. The contributions and cooperation of these agencies and individuals have been crucial throughout the development process. Combining and leveraging resources from various agencies across Florida allows for a more efficient and comprehensive restoration effort.

The more than 20 statewide springs projects include:

Northwest Florida Water Management District:

  • $1.1 million to extend central sewer service to the Tara Estates neighborhood located north of Marianna, including abandoning septic tanks proximate to the Chipola River.

 “We are so excited to help carry forward Governor DeSantis and DEP’s unparalleled commitment to the long-term improvement and protection of Florida’s priceless springs and other water resources,” said Brett Cyphers, Executive Director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. “The district, like the governor, is focused on tangible solutions and we are grateful for the opportunity to help deliver results.”

Southwest Florida Water Management District: 

  • A total of more than $8.3 million for projects in Marion County that will help protect Rainbow Springs, including Burkitt Road Septic to Sewer, Northwest Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant Expansion, Oak Bend I-75 Water Quality Improvement and the 180th Avenue Package Plant Abatement. 

“Improving our five first-magnitude springs is a top priority for our District,” said Brian Armstrong, Executive Director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “Thanks to the ongoing financial support from the Governor, the Legislature and DEP for springs restoration, we are launching a new initiative to fund septic to sewer conversion projects that will reduce nutrients and improve the health of our springs.”

St. Johns River Water Management District 

  • $1.1 million for the Apopka West Reuse Storage Facility and Reclaimed Water Extension projectthat will provide nearly 3.48 million gallons per day of reclaimed water, benefiting Wekiwa and Rock springs.

“Protecting Florida’s springs is among our state’s highest environmental priorities,” said Dr. Ann Shortelle, Executive Director of the St. Johns River Water Management District. “The Governor’s increased focus is providing historic levels of funding to bolster district and local funds and enhancing our joint environmental initiatives. We are also grateful for FDEP’s commitment to helping us fund projects improving the health of Florida’s springs and their ecosystems.”

Suwannee River Water Management District

  • A total of more than $2.3 million for the acquisition of more than 3,600 acres of land to protect springs in Columbia County Grasslands (Ichetucknee Springs), Devil's Ear Springs Recharge (Ginnie Springs Group), Santa Fe Springs and Sawdust Spring (Sawdust and Devil's Ear springs). The acquisition of these lands will help improve aquifer recharge potential, enhance recreational opportunities and protect native species.

“As Florida’s Springs Heartland, it is critical for us to focus on the health of our springs and connect with our community partners to accomplish that effort. Funding these projects will help protect and restore our natural systems,” said Hugh Thomas, Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District. “Thank you to Governor DeSantis, the Legislature and Florida Department of Environmental Protection for leading this initiative to protect our water resources.”

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TALLAHASSEE ‒ The Florida Department of Elder Affairs’ (DOEA) Serving Health Insurance Needs of the Elderly (SHINE) Program has received multiple reports of Medicare phone scams involving Durable Medical Equipment (DME). The Social Security Act prohibits suppliers of DME from making unsolicited telephone calls to people on Medicare. The reports indicate people have not only received unwanted sales calls, but other people have received unordered supplies including back braces. One case involves a person receiving twenty different items from five different companies.

People on Medicare should be aware that DME sent by a supplier needs to be prescribed by their doctor. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), fraudulent telemarketing and DME supplies contribute to the estimated $60 billion in fraudulent Medicare payments each year. To help put a stop to unsolicited calls and unordered supplies, you may consider the following actions:

  • If you receive a call that pressures you to buy medical equipment you don’t want or need, simply HANG UP.
  • If you receive items in the mail you didn’t order, refuse the delivery or send them back and report it to your local SHINE Senior Medicare Patrol Office at 1-800-963-5337.

With your help, we can stop Medicare fraud one case at a time.

SHINE is a program of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and is operated locally through Elder Options. Senior Medicare Patrols (SMPs) empower and assist Medicare beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers to prevent, detect, and report heath care fraud, errors, and abuse through outreach, counseling, and education. To receive help from SHINE, please arrange to speak with a trained SHINE counselor at 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337). For a listing of SHINE counseling sites and enrollment events, please visit www.floridashine.org.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ As slow-moving Hurricane Sally approached the Gulf Coast – eventually making landfall as a category 2 storm near Gulf Shores, Alabama, early Wednesday morning – its bands enveloped most of the Florida Panhandle.

But like the rest of the state, the Panhandle is more than its tourist-attracting beaches. The seasonal crops, livestock and aquaculture products produced in the region are valued at approximately $400 million and directly support over 8,000 jobs, and that’s not including related economic contributions in supporting industries.

The affected counties represent major producers of several agricultural products. This includes, per 2018 data from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, approximately 100,000 acres each of peanuts, cotton and hay; around 10,000 acres of corn; nearly 4,000 acres of horse farms; plus other commodities like aquaculture fish and shellfish. To capture the full impact on the damages to these commodities from Hurricane Sally, the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program is preparing to conduct an assessment of the damages.

“These types of climate-related disasters are the most destructive to agriculture,” said Christa Court, director of the program and an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department. “When we do our assessments, we’re really looking to capture the acute, short-term impacts, like losses of seasonal crops that were in the field when the storm hit, but we know that other impacts will appear in the long-term.”

The assessment surveys, completed via an online survey tool or paper survey by local Florida Cooperative Extension agents or producers themselves, aim to capture impacts to sales revenues for the wide variety of industries covered. Even ancillary components of operations can be affected, although Court adds that these will not necessarily be captured quantitatively within the survey.

“As examples, the area has grazing or pasture land that the USDA had classified as ‘in excellent condition’ in recent crop progress reports, as well as significant timber resources,” Court said. “Further along the supply chain, there is also food or crop processing in the area, such as timber mills, cotton gins, etc., that might be shut down due to flooding or be inaccessible due to road

closures that are not currently covered in our assessment efforts, which focus on agricultural production. Also, we know there are roughly 8,000 to 9,000 farm-related buildings – homes, barns, greenhouses, other structures – that are in the area and at risk of flooding or wind damage.”

Court cautions that power outages, impassible roads and other challenges could affect the ability to conduct assessments until those issues can be addressed.

“With roads and bridges being closed, it’s going to be some time before anyone is able to really assess what happened,” agreed Pete Vergot, who oversees all of the affected counties as director of the UF/IFAS Northwest Extension District. “Reports that I’ve gotten back from county Extension directors is that water is the biggest effect. Our producers were already dealing with saturated fields before all this happened.”

In addition to producers’ fields, also at risk in the region were several UF/IFAS buildings, which house programs that support growers and others in these communities: 16 county extension offices; four Research and Education Center sites in Marianna, Quincy, Milton and Jay; and 4-H Camp Timpoochee.

According to Jennifer Bearden, UF/IFAS Extension Okaloosa County agriculture agent, her local growers had been dealing with a rainy growing season that presented other challenges, like boll rot in cotton fields. Tropical storm force winds likely sent much of that crop to the ground, but she says what remains is now even more susceptible to the disease already sweeping through the fields.

She listed the other crops she helps troubleshoot for farmers in her county: “We still had some corn to be harvested but with the excess moisture and wind it may be a huge loss. Soybeans also were looking good but will likely suffer significant losses. Peanuts will probably be the least affected, but harvest will likely be delayed some due to transportation issues.”

But it’s not just plants at risk, Bearden added.

“Livestock owners face issues like trees down on fences and structures, feed and hay availability, and water availability due to power outages,” she said. “In the near future, mosquito-spread diseases can be an issue, such as encephalitis.”

Even still, Bearden noted, the rivers are rising.

“Time will tell if this will affect yields significantly,” Bearden said. “The longer we delay, the more yield losses we will see. We will have a better idea come next week when the rivers start receding.”

Court confirms that the amount of water brought by Hurricane Sally presents an unusual assessment ahead.

“Typically, we are assessing crops that have wind damage, and it is easy to tell what has been lost or destroyed,” she said. “It might be weeks or months before growers are able to determine the full impact of flooded fields – crops might be destroyed, experience lower yield or lower quality product,

etc. We also aren’t sure of the impact of soil erosion, things like sink holes, or even soil salinity for areas near the coast that got storm surge.”

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