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ALACHUA COUNTY - All businesses opened in the Governor's order may open in Alachua County at 50% occupancy and are subject to OHSA and CDC guidelines. The County still requires retail, grocery stores, and gyms to remain at a maximum of 50% occupancy, groups in public to be ten or less, and facial coverings in businesses and outside where social distancing is not possible.
For more information, contact Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton at 352-264-6979 or msexton@alachuacounty.us.
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HAWTHORNE – As part of the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) widening improvement project on State Road 20 from the Putnam County line to SW 56th Avenue, access to Gordon Chapel Road from State Road 20 is scheduled to close temporarily Monday, June 8 through midJuly, weather and schedule permitting. The closure is necessary to complete drainage and reconstruction work.

Eastbound and westbound traffic will detour via County Road 20A to Orange Avenue and Old Hawthorne Road to access Gordon Chapel Road. The improvements include widening State Road 20 from a two-lane roadway to a four-lane urban roadway with curbs, gutters, grassed medians, bicycle lanes, 5-foot sidewalk on the north side of the roadway, 10-foot multi-use path on the south side of the roadway and 5-span bridge at Fowlers Prairie. This segment will complete a 12-mile span of improvements on State Road 20 from Alachua County to Putnam County.

Lane closures will be allowed Monday through Friday after 8:30 a.m. Intermittent detours may be necessary to complete reconstruction work at access points to State Road 20. Periodic traffic shifts will be necessary to allow the contractor to safely complete work. Motorists should stay alert and adhere to posted construction and regulatory signs while traveling through the active construction zone.

Anderson Columbia Co. Inc is estimated to complete the $49 million widening improvements by late 2022, weather and unforeseen circumstances permitting.

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ALACHUA/HIGH SPRINGS – The cities of Alachua and High Springs are partnering with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County to provide COVID-19 testing to residents ages 10 and older.

The tests will be available by appointment only to ensure residents receive important information and to increase the speed of the testing process. The Florida Department of Health of Alachua County will administer the nasal swab test, which takes less than a minute to perform. Results are not available immediately and are typically available within 3-7 days. Residents should not bring any pets with them during testing.

While not required to receive a test, individuals with health insurance should have that information available when scheduling an appointment. There is no out of pocket cost, insured or not, for testing.

In High Springs, testing will be offered on Wednesday, June 3 from 9 a.m. to noon by appointment only inside the High Springs Civic Center, 19107 N.W. 240th Street. To make an appointment, High Springs residents should call City Hall at 386-454-1416. City staff will be available 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for scheduling. For additional information, High Springs residents are encouraged to visit https://highsprings.us/2020/05/26/free-covid-19-testing-in-high-springs/

In Alachua, drive-thru COVID-19 testing will be offered on Monday, June 8 from 9 a.m. to noon at Santa Fe High School. Tests can be administered to multiple people in one vehicle if members of households want to be tested at the same time for convenience. Residents will remain in their vehicle during the process. To make an appointment, Alachua residents should call 386-418-6147 Monday through Thursday between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., or email covid19testing@cityofalachua.org anytime. Appointments must be scheduled no later than 5 p.m. on June 3.

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HIGH SPRINGS – For many Americans, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend to travel, enjoy the outdoors or party. The original meaning of the holiday may be acknowledged, but oftentimes little is done to honor it during their weekend plans. Locally, the springs were packed with people enjoying a weekend outside after a month of stay-at-home restrictions, and for many, that was the main focus for the holiday weekend.

For others, the true meaning of Memorial Day carries a more somber quality.  Memorial Day is one of three holidays designated to honor the men and women who serve in our military. We celebrate Armed Forces Day on the third Saturday in May to honor those currently serving. On Nov. 11, which was the day World War I ended, we honor all veterans who served their country in the past on Veterans Day. On the last Monday in May we remember those who served and did not return, as well as those who came back but have since passed. This is the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Since the Revolutionary War, over 1,355,000 have made the supreme sacrifice for their country and the values they cherished. Every community has lost some of its youth to war and many families have lost a slice of their future. In many towns, there is a monument or statue to those who paid the ultimate price in some conflict.

The COVID-19 pandemic put lives into a period of isolation. To try and contain the spreading virus, it was necessary to issue stay-at-home orders for over a month. All events over 10 people were canceled, so all the traditional ceremonies for Memorial Day didn't happen. While the state partially reopened last week, there are still restrictions on crowd size and social distancing for any event, and many people are still cautious about going out in crowds.

But some local businesses and organizations wanted to make sure those who made the sacrifice were honored despite the restrictions. The High Springs Ace hardware gave free small American flags to all customers on Monday to place at home, graves or memorials, such as the High Springs Veterans Memorial next to City Hall.

The monument was built in 1980 by American Legion Post 97, which used to be in High Springs but is no longer active. On one side of the six-foot granite monument, which is shaped like a headstone, there is a tribute to all of those veterans who have fought in war. The other side contains the names of High Springs residents who answered the call to arms but never returned. The High Springs Lions Club and the Military Vets MC club help maintain the monument and hold ceremonies to honor the veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to social distance, this year the ceremony was canceled due to crowd size and health concerns for some of the older participants. The Lions Club did set up a station at the monument and give out free flags and silk poppy flowers that were donated by the Newberry American Legion Post 149 to place at the monument.

The poppy as a symbol for fallen soldiers dates back to a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian officer who served as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit in World War I. After witnessing the carnage of the Second Battle of Ypres, which left 124,000 men dead, wounded or missing, McCrae wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields.” McCrae was struck by the contrast of the pretty red poppies that sprouted on the battlefield where so much death had occurred. The poppy became a symbol for fallen soldiers. McCrae himself did not survive the war, dying near the end in 1918.

In America, the tradition dates back to the American Legion Auxiliary's first National Convention in the early 1920s when the red poppy was adopted as The American Legion Family's memorial flower. On Sunday and Monday members of the High Springs Lions Club tended to the monument for six hours to give people a chance to place a flag of remembrance at the granite monument.

Over 30 people came during the course of the two days, many doing it in honor of a family member who served. On Monday an older couple stopped by. They have come every year to honor a particular fallen soldier. They brought a beer and a Dixie cup to place on the monument along with the flag and poppy. Asked why they left a beer, they responded, “It's who he was and how he would want us pay tribute to him with a toast.”

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ALACHUA – The class of 2020 has seen traditional education turned upside down. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all schools in the state closed on March 13 and will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Teachers and students had to change their entire way of teaching and learning as all education went online. Not only did the Class of 2020 deal with a change in education and isolation from their peers, but for seniors it means no traditional graduation, prom or the various other activities associated with the transition out of high school.

For many the final year in high school is a transformative time of vivid memories. The last month or so of high school is a busy time finishing school work while a multitude of events and parties occur culminating in the graduation ceremony, which has been a tradition throughout history. The class of 2020 will have none of these events as traditionally conducted. Restrictions on crowd size severely limited the traditional activities associated with senior year, especially the final school month when stay-at-home order even eliminated social contact with many of their friends.

Each high school has also created events for their own students to show school unity and pride. The City of Alachua teamed up with Santa Fe High School to honor graduating seniors by conducting an appreciation celebration event last week. On May 21, the school and city combined efforts to show their appreciation for the seniors’ hard work. Students initially came to the school in their cars to drop off textbooks and pick up caps and gowns. In what was a surprise to the graduating seniors as their cars entered the school property, they faced a line of individual signs featuring the photo and name of each student and the welcoming committees that were lined up offering congratulations and more.

As cars drove through the parking lot, stopping at designated areas, school staff gave each student a t-shirt featuring the graduating year, school name and City of Alachua logo. As the students passed each stop, they were met by applause and congratulations. The final stop was set up and funded by the City of Alachua. The city gave each student a black and red gym bag imprinted with the graduating year and the school and city logos, and containing a special message of congratulations, a variety of snacks, a Frisbee, flashlight carabiner, a pen and red thermos cup with the Class of 2020 emblazoned on it.

At the next stop they were offered a bagged lunch and drink provided by the city. City of Alachua staff and commissioners were all there to offer their support and congratulations to the students clapping and cheering as each car moved down the line. Also participating and handing out gym bags were Florida State Representative Clovis Watson, Jr. and Circuit Court Judge Susanne Wilson Bullard, both Santa Fe High School graduates.

“We wanted them to know that the city stood by them and wanted to acknowledge their achievements,” said Mayor Gib Coerper as he waved a sign congratulating the students.

All of the county’s seven high schools are developing events to make the year end special for this unique senior class, as is the school district itself. The Alachua County School District is finalizing plans for a combination of activities, programs and events to celebrate graduates, but is also asking local citizens to display messages of support for the Class of 2020 sometime during the period from May 26 through June 10, which is the final day the district will be holding graduation ceremonies. This could include messages on marquees/signs at businesses, churches, schools and other organizations, yard signs, even signs in windows or along fence lines at homes and businesses. The district is currently working with local media outlets to honor the Class of 2020 in other ways.

While traditional graduation ceremonies in auditoriums are canceled due to social distancing restrictions, the school district has arranged with the Gainesville Raceway to hold open air graduation ceremonies at the facility June 8-10 for the district’s high schools. To maintain social distancing, students and their families will drive into the Raceway and up to a decorated stage. As the graduates’ names are called out over the loudspeaker, they will get out of their cars, walk across the stage to accept their diplomas and have their photos taken. They will then get back in their cars and drive down a strip that runs next to the racetrack before exiting the facility. The Gainesville Raceway is providing their facility to the district free of charge. “We’re happy we can help the Class of 2020 have a graduation ceremony,” said track manager Mike Yurick. “We hope it will be a memorable experience for them.”

Between June 8 and 10, the senior class of 2020 will have their final ceremony before moving on in life beyond high school. “When COVID-19 closed schools, I made it a priority to have some sort of in-person graduation ceremony for our seniors,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke. “This ‘hybrid’ approach at the Raceway will give graduates the opportunity to walk across the stage in their caps and gowns while still keeping everyone as safe as possible.” Each high school will be sending specific instructions for the ceremonies directly to students and families.

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ARCHER – The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) was called to the scene of a one-vehicle deadly crash on May 25 at 1:40 a.m. The incident occurred on State Road 24 and Southwest 135th Street, east of Archer.

The 29-year-old passenger was killed and the 24-year-old driver suffered critical injuries.

The two-door vehicle was traveling east on State Road 24 when it traveled off of the roadway to the left and struck a mailbox and multiple trees. The passenger was ejected from the sedan and was pronounced deceased on the scene by Alachua County Fire Rescue.

The driver was transported to UF-Health Shands Hospital in critical condition.

Both the driver and passenger were Gainesville residents.

FHP reports that the passenger was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, however the driver was wearing a seatbelt.

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ALACHUA – A local community found a special way to pay tribute to veterans this past Monday as they observed Memorial Day. While the COVID-19 pandemic changed routines and events, including the cancellation of most Memorial Day ceremonies, residents of Turkey Creek in Alachua banded together to honor the fallen. Due to COVID guidelines, the ceremony was held outdoors with as little close contact as possible.

At 8 a.m. on Memorial Day, the vehicles started to gather at the Turkey Creek Golf Club. Golf carts came first, followed by motorcycles and finally cars and trucks. Some vehicles were decorated with signs honoring deceased veterans while others were driven by veterans there to honor their fallen comrades. Most were decorated with flags. A sound system played music as the participants gathered. At 9 a.m. Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper led the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the haunting melody of “Taps” honoring the fallen and deceased.

Many of those assembled were veterans.

Eric Persons was a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam during the brutal Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hue. All 10 of his brothers and sisters also served in the military.

Standing next to their golf cart were three veterans who made the military their career. Dwayne Romano served 27 years in the Navy from 1958 -1985, Dwight Richard served 30 years in the Army, retiring in 2018. Mildred Perkins served 20 years in the Army.

Standing alone dressed in a red Marine shirt and cap was Ken Beasock, a retired Marine Colonel. He served 42 years from 1950 -1992 and saw combat in the Korean War and two tours of Vietnam.

Farther back among the motorcycle riders were Fred Johnson and Virginia McCord. Johnson served in Vietnam from 1970-1971 as a helicopter pilot. Although the U.S. had already been doing it covertly, Johnson was in the first Cobra helicopter to officially cross into Cambodia.

McCord was a Navy nurse during the war and was stationed in Oakland. California. “Many of the patients were not older vets but young ones with various health issues or injuries,” McCord said. “Many were not much more than boys.” She went on to make the service a career and was married to a Navy officer.

These were just a few of the veterans out of a convoy of over 50 vehicles. Each veteran had a story and many had seen combat during their time in service. All were there to honor their fallen comrades or family members.

The line of vehicles pulled out behind a police car with lights flashing to slowly wind through the neighborhood as residents came out on the street to pay tribute to those who had served. The convoy made several trips through the neighborhood as residents clapped or waved American flags and posters supporting veterans.

While many of this year’s Memorial Day ceremonies were cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, Turkey Creek residents ensured that veterans were honored and the fallen were not forgotten.

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