The first phase of the Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Smart. Safe. Step-By-Step.” plan to reopen Florida will go into effect on Monday, and The Villages community is bustling to phase in reopenings at the local level. Here’s what residents can expect:
Starting Monday, facilities will see a gradual return in some indoor and outdoor recreational amenities, according to John Rohan, director of The Recreation and Parks Department. It also will come with a few new twists.
Residents must wear a face mask, and should plan to bring their own water, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and of course, their Villages ID.
“It is going to take more than time, it is going to take everyone to do their part to stay safe, as this is new territory for all of us,” Rohan said. “We do know our residents will do the right things to work with us as we start phasing in our recreational opportunities. We’re able to open Monday because of the positive steps they have taken. As we have more success, more facilities will be opened.”
Regional recreation centers and some village recreation centers, 11 sports pools and 25 family pools are being prepped this week to join the 16 parks currently open.
Each pool will have strict capacity limits depending on the size of the facility, monitored by a recreation staffer. Each swimmer will be asked to observe a one-hour time limit, and those waiting to use the pool will be asked to keep a 6-foot distance from each other.
Sports pool lanes will be limited to one swimmer per lane, with a maximum of 35 people allowed in the open area.
Furniture will be set up at each pool with appropriate distancing, and they should not be moved.
Executive golf courses resume normal hours on Monday, and dog parks will be opened at a later appropriate date. Rohan said future updates will be provided in Recreation News each week, which is inserted in the Daily Sun home-delivery copies in The Villages and available at thevillagesdailysun.com under the “recreation” tab.
Ernestine Tilghman, who lives in the Village of Piedmont, is most looking forward to getting in the pools again.
“I used to swim a lot before the virus, and being home and away from the pools has been hard,” said Tilghman. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m still concerned about the safety measures that are going into the reopening and us being around others again. But I am really looking forward to another form of exercise.”
Mary Day also is looking forward to getting out and about, both at recreation centers and the Mark Twain Library.
“I used to play Mexican Train once a week, Curves three times a week and work at the library,” the Village of Duval resident said. “I look forward to getting out and catching up with friends while getting some exercise. It’s just not the same using video.”
Bill and Mary Ann Hicks most look forward to the eventual reopening of dog parks, which remains on hold for the time. Whenever it happens, the Village of Hadley residents are excited to let their Pomeranians get some exercise outdoors with other dogs.
“We spend a lot of time at the dog parks as it gives both us and our dogs a chance to get fresh air and catch up with our friends,” said Bill. “My wife and I are also looking forward to returning to social groups indoors as we enjoy having conversations with people who have similar interests.”
Licensed restaurants, food establishments and retail stores may reopen Monday as long as they operate at 25% capacity. Restaurants may offer outdoor seating with appropriate social distancing.
“I am ecstatic to be able to get people back to work,” said Fred Karimipour, president and CEO of FMK Restaurants Group, which operates Belle Glade, Bonifay, Evans Prairie and Orange Blossom country clubs, the Bluefin Grill & Bar and Scooples Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor & Restaurant at Brownwood, and the Chop House at Lake Sumter Landing.
“My business partner and I made a commitment early on that we were going to keep as many people on payroll as possible,” he added. “We kept the entire management team on payroll and a good number of hourly employees. We also kept our hourly workers engaged, kept constant contact with them and even did fundraising for them.”
Each of his restaurants will operate within strict health and safety guidelines, he said. Pickup and delivery service still will be available by phone or through the FMK website, fmkdelivery.com, and its delivery app.
Right away, Christine Chaloupka began making plans to reopen her two retail stores — Christine’s, a gift, fashion and home decor store at Brownwood, and Lime Light Boutique, a retailer of women’s fashions, jewelry and accessories.
“We’re glad we’re able to reopen, because we have customers waiting for it,” she said. “The plan is to reopen at normal business hours but to close early.”
Chaloupka also advised each store will require social distancing to ensure employee and customer safety.
“That’s the most important thing for me as a business owner,” she said. “Health and safety is No. 1.”
Several members of the Spanish Springs Merchants Association advised they’ll also open Monday, most likely at reduced hours, said Candy Coldwell, the group’s secretary-treasurer. Those businesses include Kilwins Chocolates, Bermuda Bay women’s fashions and Cozco Handcrafts Peruvian gifts.
“It’s wonderful news for us,” said Coldwell, owner of The King’s Gallery art and framing gallery. “We would like people to wear masks, and we’re going to be very careful about how many people can be in the store at one time. But it’s fantastic news.”
The state canceled traditional graduation ceremonies, so high schools are busy planning nontraditional graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020.
The Villages High School is still planning an in-person graduation ceremony on May 23 and an eighth-grade “promotion parade” on May 21, and is ironing out details, said Education Director Randy McDaniel.
“Our team continues to brainstorm creative solutions to allow for a version of the end of year celebrations and still follow the legal and medical mandates of our state,” he said.
Students have been learning online and remotely since before spring break in March. However, the school plans some on-campus work in coming weeks, such as auditions for next year’s arts classes, plus Advanced Placement and industry exams.
The Villages Early Learning Company also will reopen Monday for up to 25% of currently enrolled families, executive director Kristine Rohan said.
The Little Buffalo Learning Center and Early Childhood Center, meantime, surveyed all their families and can serve all families who need child care.
The centers plan small groups of 10 children and staff per classroom and spaced out furniture and equipment. Small groups will not interact with other groups. They will practice lots of hand-washing and staff will frequently clean surfaces.
Only essential staff and the students will be allowed inside the buildings, and parents will drop off their children outside the front door with designated staff, Rohan said.
“We will screen for signs of illness and take temperatures, and all adults will be wearing face masks,” she said.
Wildwood Middle High School plans a drive-in graduation ceremony May 30, similar to drive-in services at some churches with families remaining in their cars, principal Jerry Graybeal said.
Graduates’ families will park their cars in alphabetical order between the baseball and football fields, he said. Graduates will exit their cars one row at a time and those seniors will cross the stage as their names are called. Once they return to their cars, the next row will follow.
The Villages Entertainment is working tirelessly to reschedule shows and refund tickets, as more than 60 events have been affected by COVID-19 concerns.
David Foster, Jackie Evancho, Chris Botti and Paul Anka all rescheduled quickly, which allowed ticket-holders to keep their seats, said Elizabeth Constant, booking coordinator at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center.
A total of 22 shows now have rescheduled dates at The Sharon or Savannah Center, beginning in September. For an up-to-date list on rescheduled and canceled performances, visit thevillagesentertainment.com and click on “Latest Updates.”
“We’ve been offering everyone with tickets to impacted shows multiple options with refunds, credits or even the option to keep their tickets if the show is rescheduled and they still wish to go,” said Brian Russo, director of entertainment.
New features also have been added to The Villages Entertainment’s ticketing website, tickets.thevillages.com.
“The biggest single feature we just launched is the ability to request an exchange or credit to a show,” Russo said.
To access this feature, log into your account on tickets.thevillages.com, and it’ll be on the first page that shows up.
Plans are in place for reopening entertainment on the squares and at Savannah Center, Russo said, though for now venues will remain closed.
One of the biggest changes during Phase 1 is that elective surgeries can resume statewide.
UF Health The Villages Hospital and the UF Health Leesburg Hospital plan to reopen for elective surgeries on Monday.
“Our teams have been preparing for the last several weeks to begin offering a number of much-needed procedures to area residents,” said Don Henderson, CEO of UF Health Central Florida. “As we reopen, protecting the safety of patients and visitors from acquiring hospital-based infections continues to be our top priority.”
The hospitals have not seen any new positive COVID-19 admissions in the past two weeks, Henderson said, adding that only three acute care patients currently are being treated in isolation at the hospitals.
Still, the hospitals will be taking additional precautions because of the coronavirus.
Patients will be allowed only one visitor, and all patients and visitors will continue to be medically screened, including temperature checks, at hospital entrances upon arrival.
In addition, all staff and visitors will be required to wear masks at all times.
The Villages Health also will begin lifting some restrictions and increasing services at its care centers — but not at the cost of patient safety, said Dr. Jeff Lowenkron, TVH chief medical officer.
The primary care provider will slowly increase capacity for face-to-face visits at its care centers, and the audiology department will begin seeing patients and offering hearing screenings at 50% of normal capacity.
All patients will continue to be screened before appointments are booked, and the temperatures of all staff and patients are checked before they enter a care center. The centers have signage to enforce 6-foot distancing between individuals.
Patients are required to wear masks in the care centers. They are encouraged to bring their own, but a mask will be provided if they do not. Employees also are required to wear masks if interacting with patients. TVH will continue to offer telehealth appointments, done by phone or video calls, as an option.
Tourism And Travel
Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay remain temporarily closed until further notice. While none of the three parks offered a specific date as to when they may reopen, Disney World is accepting reservations for travel starting June 1, with the ability to change the bookings if the park reopens before or after June 1.
Orlando and Tampa’s international airports did not close during the pandemic and remain open. But airlines aren’t operating on full schedules as demand for air travel is down.
Current passenger traffic at Orlando International Airport is down 95% from this time last year, airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said.
It’s too early to tell if airlines will resume the level of service they offered prior to COVID-19, she said. For that to happen, she suggested, the coronavirus must at least be contained and consumers must be confident that it’s safe to travel by plane.
Cruise lines aren’t likely to set sail until the end of June.
Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line all extended their suspension of cruise sailings through mid- to late June.
National parks remain closed, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will soon announce a phased-in reopening of state parks.
A handful of area churches plan to open their doors this weekend for live, in-person services.
First Baptist Church of Lady Lake will reopen for in-person services Sunday at 432 County Road 466 in Lady Lake.
Open Door Community Church in Summerfield will reopen its sanctuary doors at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at 5200 SE 145th St. in Summerfield. Congregants also can listen in to the service from their cars in the parking lot.
“We feel that resuming in-person services is important not only to people’s spiritual health, but also to their mental and emotional health,” said Associate Pastor Wendy Bustin Gallegos.
Calvary Baptist Church also will offer congregants the option of attending Sunday service inside the church or hearing it from their vehicles in the parking lot. The service is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Sunday at 3740 Eagles Nest Road in Fruitland Park.
Family Community Church, located at 520 County Road 466 in Lady Lake, says it will open its sanctuary doors for live worship 11 a.m. Sunday. Church Pastor Aaron Baum says Family Community will offer masks for anyone who would like one.
Grace Anglican Church in Wildwood plans to hold two services Sunday at its sanctuary on 4971 East County Road 462. Church pastor the Rev. R. Wayne Ogg said the services, at 9 and 10:30 a.m., will be limited to no more than 10 people each.
Sunset Harbor Baptist Church says it will hold a service inside its sanctuary Sunday, but only if the weather prevents holding worship outside on church grounds. A church official says seating inside the church has been re-arranged to comply with social-distancing guidelines. Sunset Harbor Baptist’s worship happens, rain or shine, at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at 9200 SE Sunset Harbor Road in Summerfield.
Other churches are compromising by opting to introduce drive-in worship options this weekend. This includes Live Oaks Community Church, which will offer three services this weekend at “The Grove,” located at its Woodridge campus at 12070 County Road 103 in Oxford, behind Walmart.
Christ Lutheran Church plans to unveil its take on drive-in services called “Worship Without Walls” at 9 a.m. Sunday at 15699 SE 80th Ave. in Summerfield.
Village View Community Church is offering “Come As You Are, But Stay in Your Car” worship 5 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday at 8585 SE 147th Place in Summerfield. The church says all of its volunteers will have temperatures taken ahead of the service and will wear masks and gloves.
The Congregational Church also will hold an outdoor Holy Communion service 10 a.m. Sunday in the parking lot of its sanctuary, located at 15431 South U.S. Highway 301 in Summerfield. Attendees are asked to remain in their vehicles.
American Legion Post 347, the largest Legion post in the world, will remain closed for now, according to Commander Bob Kiley. The post is using this time to deep-clean the building and facilities.
“We are doing everything humanly possible to make things safe for our members,” he said.
The Combat Veterans to Careers organization has remained busy working with veterans who may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The Restoring Hope Thrift Shop the organization operates, located at 400 E. Gulf Atlantic Highway in Wildwood, will reopen on Monday.
“We’re ready to go,” said David Booth, Combat Veterans to Careers president. “We have some great new stock. A lot of Villagers had time on their hands to go through their belongings and make new donations.”
Booth said the shop will follow all precautions in terms of social distancing and require masks to be worn. Restoring Hope Thrift Shop is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Villages Honor Flight is awaiting direction from the national organization before moving forward with rescheduling any activities, according to Rob Hempel, president. The organization’s next flight to Washington, D.C., is scheduled for mid-September. Another flight is scheduled in October and a flightless honor flight is set for Nov. 7.
The Villages Outpatient Clinic, run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, will serve patients from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Extended hours on Wednesday will keep the office open until 6 p.m.
Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1036 is focused on raising funds to continue to perform all of its charitable works. The post is hosting a virtual fundraiser, called the Virtual Veteran Team Challenge, that will last until the monetary goal is reached or until June 30.
People who want to support the post’s fundraising efforts can send donations to VVA Chapter 1036, Attn: Virtual Veteran Team Challenge, P.O. Box 842, Oxford, FL, 34484.
Jeff Shain, Curt Hills, Andrea Davis, David Corder, Dayna Straehley, Kristen Fiore, Ciara Varone, Michael Salerno, James Dinan, Keith Pearlman and Steve Straehley contributed to this report.