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photo/Laura Kepner

Locals Virtually Teaching, Learning, and Graduating

in news/town square

Working from home, whether you’re a student, parent, teacher, or in some cases, both, is the norm these days. With the ongoing threat of COVID-19, there can only be guesswork as to when workers and students may return to a normal schedule . . . and environment.

Amy Stinsman teaches second grade at Safety Harbor Elementary. In a recent phone interview, she explained that she and her students had one week off for spring break. The following week became training for all Pinellas County teachers. They had to learn how to reach their students virtually. “The following Monday,” she said “we started gently: one lesson a day.”

Mrs. Stinsman said that there has been a big transition to the online technology. The whole process has been challenging for everyone. “But,” she said, “week by week we are all getting better – students, parents, and teachers.”

She appreciates how smooth this transition has actually been. “I am super proud of the county’s reaction to implementing virtual school so swiftly. It was a huge endeavor and the leadership at the county level has been phenomenal. I am grateful that we get to keep in contact with our students and give them some sort of normalcy.”

Some of the technical challenges have been due to a sluggish system, mainly on Microsoft Teams because of too many users. “Everyone is being very patient,” Mrs. Stinsman explained. “Our principal has not overwhelmed us. She has been wonderful and being supportive of what we are doing. I think [the pandemic] has brought more tolerance in the world and more patience.

“Right now, it is less is more because in these difficult times teachers are trying to understand that parents have a lot more to do. Teachers are trying to not overwhelm them. So far, we have gotten positive feedback.

While Safety Harbor is made up of many affluent families, there are also families who are struggling, especially now. Safety Harbor Elementary reacted quickly and provided computers for all kids who did not have them at home. Spectrum has given wifi to families who don’t have it.

Mrs. Stinsman and her coworkers are continuing to teach themselves. “It is confusing and there is a learning curve. I have been behind my computer at least eight hours a day, past my contractual hours and I feel ninety-percent of teachers are. Teachers are typically perfectionists and we are all trying to master this. As long as the kids are learning, that is what is important.”

On Saturday, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that Florida schools K-12 will remain closed through the end of this school year. Mrs. Stinsman said she thinks it is smart and will help keep children, parents, and teachers healthy and safe.  “I signed a petition for Ron DeSantis to keep the schools closed. I hope it helped.”

Kara Tanner‘s two daughters are students at Safety Harbor Elementary. She explained that she feels fortunate because she is a stay-at-home mom so she is used to having her kids at home with her when not in school. “But,” she said, “there are things at school that we can’t do – like socialization. And the girls listen to their teachers better than they do me.”

Mrs. Tanner has found ways to make online learning work best for her daughters. “We start later,” she said. “We will usually do recess first. I have a kindergartner. She will have a video to watch or her teacher will offer options. We have done things like cut our fruits and vegetables to see the seeds. Then she drew a picture of the seeds to compare and contrast. For math you can play a math game, like with Uno cards or you can go on the computer and do thirty minutes of math there. Sometimes I don’t have time to play a math game. My other daughter is more independent. She is in third grade. They recently went on a virtual field trip to a national park.”

But for the Tanners, there is an unavoidable downside to the stay-at-home school experience. “They miss their teachers so much, and friends of course. It is a different environment at home. At first they didn’t think they’d have to work.”

The Tanners hadn’t planned on sending their girls back to school this year anyway, even though it is now official. “My husband is very high risk, so we have to be extra careful,” Mrs. Tanner said.

Sophie Goldsmith is a senior at Palm Harbor University High School and plans to attend Amherst College this fall.  Like all Florida seniors, she recently learned she will not return to high school at all this year.

“My IB exams have been canceled. For weeks they were saying they weren’t going to cancel. It is a big deal . . .  the two-year program has never been canceled,” she said.  “Grad Bash at Universal has been canceled. Prom has been canceled. But I am healthy. We are doing our part and staying home.”

Sophie describes herself as an in-person learner.  “It is definitely tough to find motivation for how to do it all at home. I have a new respect for my dad, who telecommutes.

“I have had a lot of time to think about graduation,” she said. “I feel like graduation is pretty impersonal anyway. But a lot of people peak in high school so this is hard for them. It was going to be on a Saturday at 7 a.m. and that would have been a nightmare. It is what it is. I will be okay.”

Sophie hopes to study molecular biology.  “I also want to study history and a foreign language. I want to study abroad. I feel like the world is my oyster.”

Sophie misses her friends and teachers. “I miss having conversations and learning from people. We are not allowed to turn on our cameras. We have to turn on mute. I am still in touch with my friends. At lunch we do the New York Times Crossword so we still facetime and do all that but I miss learning with people—how they think and view materials.”

She has had time to focus on reading, though. “I haven’t read for fun in a really long time. I spend an hour in my driveway reading a book. I put on big sunglasses and look like one of the Three Blind Mice. It is really nice to see my neighbors. I haven’t seen some of them in years. It is neat. I like that a lot. I have been really trying to get outside even though it’s hot.”

When asked how she feels about the decision to close schools through the remainder of the school year, she replied, “I’m just bummed about everything getting canceled. Graduation is virtual now, whatever that means.”

What is your experience with COVID-19? If you have a story to share, please contact Laura Kepner at

Consulate Health Care on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street in Safety Harbor. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

Safety Harbor nursing home on Florida COVID-19 list

in news/town square

 A Safety Harbor nursing home is among 307 in the state where patients, residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a list of the facilities released Saturday by state officials. 

Consulate Health Care of Safety Harbor was included on the list released by the Florida Department of Health after Gov. Ron DeSantis reversed a previous position and ordered the release of the names of facilities. The director of Consulate Health Care of Safety Harbor could not reached for comment.

Another facility in Safety Harbor was originally on the list but it was removed Sunday. State officials indicated that listing was an error. 

The list of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities was all that was released. The list did not specify how many cases each facility has had, or whether the victims were staff or residents. It also it did not disclose which facilities have had a death from the virus. 

As of Monday at 5:50 p.m., the Florida Department of Health reported 27,058 positive cases, up 744 since Sunday. The state death toll went up to 823, an increase of 34 since Monday morning.

So far, the state has reported 1,785 cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, resulting in 175 deaths. For weeks DeSantis declined to identify the nursing homes and assisted living facilities that were struck by the virus. The Department of Health notes that its data is and subject to change and it represents COVID-19 positive reports in staff and residents from long-term care facilities from March 2, 2020 to date.

 A coalition of Florida newspaper outlets threatened to sue his administration to get the names. At a news conference Saturday, DeSantis said the state was now requiring the facilities to notify relatives of residents about positive corona-virus cases.  

He said that he had not wanted a situation where the families don’t know what is happening. The list includes 25 Pinellas County facilities. Tampa has four and Pasco has two.

Screenshot of Mayor Joe Ayoub during the April 18, 2020 virtual town hall. (Screenshot/Kathryn Malaxos)

April 18 Town Hall with Mayor Ayoub and City Manager Matt Spoor

in city hall/news

Mayor Joe Ayoub and City Manager Matt Spoor held a Town Hall regarding the coronavirus crisis on April 18. The next City Commission meeting will be held on Monday, April 20.

Walt Belcher shares how to join the commission meeting virtually in City Commission goes virtual.

Virtual Covid-19 Town Hall on April 18, 2020
(Photo/Adam Śmigielski on Unsplash)

A Wellness Wake Up Call

in town square

We are in the midst of what seems like a “new normal” with COVID-19 changing pretty much the way we do everything. As a “glass half full” kind of gal I see a tremendous opportunity for us to take stock: am I doing all I can to support my health and that of my family? Here I’ll offer some easy tips and science-based information on how to shore up our immune defenses, and offer the skinny on a few supplements that may be useful to have on hand. As always, do your own research and make your own health decisions accordingly.

First, we have to kick anxiety and fear straight to the curb. May be easier said than done, but worth the effort. Chronic stress has a measurably negative physiological effect on our body’s ability to fend off viral and bacterial infection. In other words, if you’re stressing out you’re shooting your immune system in the foot. Stress tends to make us sleep poorly and over-indulge in alcohol, caffeine, sugary snacks, and comfort foods, all of which make a bad situation worse by creating nutritional deficiencies that can leave us vulnerable. These poor choices have a particularly bad effect on gut flora. Why is that a big deal? Because the gut houses the vast majority of our body’s immune cells. The “good bacteria” that are supposed to reside in our gut interact with those immune cells to ward off and respond to invaders. This is why fermented foods (like homemade sauerkraut from the Sausage House!) and a high quality, multiple strain daily probiotic is essential.  Good bacteria are the guardians at the gate of our immune systems!  And no, we don’t get adequate amounts from a serving of yogurt.

There is an enormous amount of research supporting the use of certain nutritional supplements to help build our natural defenses.  Before I get to that, I must tell you that no vitamin or supplement has been clinically shown to prevent or treat the coronavirus.  Period.  The goal here is to share information on how we can support a healthy immune response to any kind of viral or microbial invader, year in and year out. What I’ve listed below are considered the basics.

Good old vitamin C tops the list. A powerful antioxidant, it helps our bodies create more natural killer cells, reducing the severity and duration of infectious diseases. Experts suggest at least 1,000 mgs of supplemental vitamin C daily. 

Zinc is an essential trace mineral, important to several aspects of a healthy immune response. It’s not hard to get the zinc you need from foods: beans, nuts, seeds, shellfish, red meat, and dark chocolate are good sources. If you want to supplement, don’t overdo it. Some folks are sensitive to zinc–like me. If I were to take more than 20 mgs I’m upchucking in a matter of minutes. So I rely on the 15 mgs I get in my daily multiple, and the foods listed above.

In addition to forming strong bones, research shows vitamin D plays a critical role in activating immune function, and can help protect the respiratory tract. In fact, a deficiency of vitamin D is associated with decreased lung function, and can increase vulnerability to infection, disease, and autoimmune disorders.  Since D is a fat-soluble nutrient, it’s best to avoid excessively high doses; you can have your levels checked to find the right dose for you. The most bioavailable form is D-3, called cholecalciferol which is sourced from lanolin.

One of my all-time favorite supplements is NAC (N-acetylcysteine). It’s a real all-star – for immune function, anti-aging, even mood support. N-acetyl cysteine is an amino acid that helps the body create glutathione, our “master antioxidant.” NAC has an affinity for the lungs; it busts mucous and significantly improves lung function, even in COPD sufferers. NAC also supports the liver and kidneys, and is used in hospitals as an antidote for acetaminophen toxicity and overdose. It’s been steadily gaining attention for use as a natural treatment for psychological disorders such as bi-polar and OCD, and for helping to break addictions.  

There are also some intriguing medicinal plants worth taking a look at.  “Many natural products and herbal ingredients are observed to possess robust antiviral activity and their discoveries can further help develop derivatives and therapeutic leads.” That’s from a study published by the National Institutes of Health. Just a few of the plants shown to be antiviral include olive leaf, lemon balm, elderberry, rosemary, astragalus, garlic, sage, cat’s claw, echinacea, and goldenseal. These can be taken singly or in combination, in teas, capsules, or tinctures. Again, do your research before using a medicinal plant, particularly if you have a serious health condition or take prescription drugs. Interactions are rare, but they can happen. Personally, I love the fact that science is largely validating what herbalists have known for centuries, but we need to be sensible in using nature’s pharmacy. 

As you’ve heard from the experts, it’s essential to stay hydrated right now. If you’ve been to my shop you know I preach that 365 days a year. A good rule of thumb: drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day, more if you have caffeine or alcohol, are exercising or out in the heat.  We prefer spring water, which contains a natural balance of minerals (electrolytes) to keep us alkaline. Purified, reverse osmosis, and distilled water are void of minerals, and can actually turn your pH acidic — which opens the door to pathogen.

And finally: plenty of rest, exercise, sunshine, and a fresh whole foods diet are absolutely foundational to good health. This is an extremely difficult time for many of us. I feel that by using common sense, showing compassion to ourselves — and others, and pulling together as we Americans have a wonderful habit of doing, we’re going to weather this storm. Taking time to do things you enjoy, or doing something nice for a neighbor can actually make you healthier according to a study published last year in Clinical Psychological Science, which linked compassionate acts and a positive outlook to a healthier immune system. There you have it.  Be nice and be calm, and more than likely — you’ll be healthy!

This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor is it to be considered a substitute for the care of a qualified health practitioner.

Signs posted on Safety Harbor's City Hall doors signal the closing of the building due to the coronavirus crisis. March 25, 2020. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

City Commission goes virtual

in city hall/news

It could be the first step toward a new way of doing Safety Harbor City Commission meetings or it could be a bit of mess.The first ever Zoom City Commission Meeting will be Monday night at 7 pm live in your living room should you decide to watch.Due to COVID-19 safer-at-home restrictions, the City of Safety Harbor plans to hold the monthly City Commission meeting using virtual and audio communications technology.

What’s on the agenda?  The swearing in of Joe Ayoub as Mayor and Carlos Diaz as City Commissioner along with approval of a contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department for policing services. The full agenda is at the city’s website.

The “Public Comments” part of the meeting, which apparently can get lively, will be sprinkled through the meeting (depending on the subject). To get your two-cents worth in, it may be a bit complicated, especially for those who are technology-challenged. Members of the public who wish to comment during the meeting have several options.You can e-mail in advance to Emailed comments under 500 words will be read aloud during the meeting, longer emails will be provided to the City Commissioners but will not be read aloud. 

You can use traditional mail. (Better hurry!) Mail To: City Clerk, Attn.: Public Comment | 750 Main Street | Safety Harbor, FL 34695. Mailed comments under 500 words will be read aloud during the meeting; longer emails will be provided to the City Commissioners but will not be read aloud.

You can try to get a question in with Voice Live during the meeting: Hit the “Raise Your Hand” button and the host will be notified and you may be called on at the appropriate time. Live public comment may only be shared during the associated agenda item or as part of audience to be heard. At all other times, live participants should be on “mute” to minimize background noise and feedback. If this doesn’t happen, who knows what you will hear. You can read more about this on Facebook:

Also the city is holding a virtual Town Hall Meeting on Saturday at 3 p.m. to explain all this. If you have never used Zoom, it’s s available from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. or on a web browser. Enter Zoom Meeting ID # 202 417 489. Web Browser: to watch or listen live.

(Photo/Cassidy Fitzpatrick)

Through Pandemic, Janet Hooper is Determined to Help

in news/town square

Janet Hooper, executive director of the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center, is used to times of crisis. Normally, they arrive one family at a time through job losses, food insecurities and electric bill shut offs. Now, Hooper and her team of employees and volunteers are handling a new urgency, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center assists residents in 34695, 34677, 33759, and 33761 zip codes. Safety Harbor’s population includes all income levels, from the affluent to the jobless, but for those who manage one paycheck at a time, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus adds an unforeseen level of stress for many families.

“We’re ready,” Hooper said. “We are closed to the public but if anyone is in need of food or hygiene products, we can direct them to get help.”

The food pantry is still open on Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. and they have a select group that comes in the afternoon due to work schedules. “That is all done outside. They come up, put their name on the list and we have volunteers who’ve prepackaged everything. They get milk or eggs, meat and vegetables.”

Hooper explained that with the shelter in place order, food pantries will stay open. “I’ve committed this week and the next two weeks but I won’t know what it looks like later,” she said. “It is just as hard for us but we still need to provide services.”

So far, she and her staff are taking it one step at a time. “I need to make sure everybody’s safe.  We don’t want to put people at risk, but we want to serve. I’ve agonized over how many weeks we can go.,” Hooper said. “I don’t sleep at night.”

Last week the center had fewer people show up for food than Hooper and her team are used to. “We have several seniors who we feed. They didn’t show up so we will contact them to see if they’re in need. If people need to sign up for food stamps our family support person will work with them to help them sign up.”

photo/ Cassidy Fitzpatrick

For safety concerns, Hooper is asking the community not to bring donations of clothing or food at this time. “If people want to help with the food pantry, the best way would be through a financial contribution,” she said. “We only get three boxes of meat so we have to go out and buy more. It makes it more difficult. “

Hooper still manages to keep her chin up even through the worry. “We had a conference call with the Juvenile Welfare Board and they’re working with partners across the County to feed kids,” she said. “The school system is feeding kids and our school is Eisenhower Elementary. They are working on a new program where the [Mattie Williams] center will be able to provide a drive-through breakfast and lunch program. It will start within two weeks.”

It may be difficult to comprehend how many food-challenged neighbors we have in Safety Harbor. The Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center serves 90 families, which translates to about 250 individuals. Hooper believes the demand will only increase and she isn’t sure how she’ll make up for the fundraisers that have been canceled due to the coronavirus.

“Bands on The Bay got canceled . . . all that money would have gone to the food pantry. We lost that revenue. The community Easter service usually raises $1200. We have lost a lot. Unfortunately, with all the people being laid off, it is going to get worse before it gets better.”.

Note: to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center, visit and click the Ways to Help button.

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