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And so it began: Life in Hernando County during the coronavirus scare

County beaches closed, fairs and festivals cancelled, neighbors helping neighbors.

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Michael Sapp, of Lutz, was being a good dad Monday on the first day of his daughters’ spring break. He brought them and his nephew to Rogers Park in Hernando Beach to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather.

But a large sign at the entrance informed him the beach would close beginning Tuesday as part of Hernando County’s efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the region. The county’s beach park on Pine Island also closed beginning Tuesday.

Hernando County officials closed Alfred McKethan Park on Pine Island beginning Tuesday due to concerns over the coronavirus. That beach and the beach at Rogers Park in Hernando Beach are closed until further notice. [Karen Peterson]

“We made it by one day,” Sapp said Monday as he sat on a picnic table and watched his daughters, Averi Sapp, 10, and Maci Sapp, 8, play in the sand. His nephew, Austin Moore, 9, had something to say about the impending closure.

“I don’t like it,” he said.

Hernando County announced the closures Monday afternoon. The boat ramp at Rogers Park remained open. The beaches are closed until further notice, according to a press release from the county.

Hernando County officials closed Alfred McKethan Park on Pine Island beginning Tuesday due to concerns over the coronavirus. That beach and the beach at Rogers Park in Hernando Beach are closed until further notice. [Karen Peterson]

How will the Sapp family cope with what could be a long school closure?

“Next week, my wife takes over,” Michael Sapp said, adding that she works for the Pasco County School District, which also is closed. “We lucked out on that one.”


Jam’s Cafe was one of at least a handful of Spring Hill restaurants offering free meals this week for kids who are out of school for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are family owned, and we know people go through things,” said Nicholas Soehngen, a cook at the restaurant that his mother has owned on Mariner Boulevard for two years. “We like to help.”

The restaurant advertised the offer on its Facebook page.

“With all the school closures, we know many families in our community are going to face the burden of no having school breakfasts and lunches available for their children,” it read. Jam’s was providing free breakfasts or lunches to children 10 and under through the end of March.

On Monday, the Cafe served free meals to 15-20 children, Nicholas Soehngen said, and the restaurant was serving more children than normal.

“We’re a small restaurant,” said owner Debra Soehngen, “but there’s a lot of single moms out there. I’m a single mom of six. I get it.”


Just last weekend, Greg Herndon and his crew at Mojo Productions were setting up for the Sarasota Jazz Festival when they got the word.

“We had just finished doing the sound checks, had everything all ready, and they came out and said, ‘Sorry guys, we’re going to have to cancel the show.’”

“What do you do?” he said. “You just load up the truck and go home.”

Then came the ripple effect as others followed suit.

On Sunday, Herndon was pulling the plug on his own festival — this weekend’s Blues Bash at the Ranch. It is one of three festivals his promotion company hosts at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville.

People were still calling about tickets, Herndon said, but there was no saving the show.

“We looked at rescheduling,” he said. “But all of our artists are touring artists, and all the other shows got cancelled, so we lost a lot of artists because they didn’t want to come for just one show. The thing is, we just don’t know what’s going to happen next week or next month. The good Lord willing, we’ll bring it back next year.

“I’ve been in the business since the 1990s and doing festivals for about seven years now,” he said. “And we’ve never seen anything like this.”

The ripple effect goes beyond what most people think of, he said, “right down to the people selling T-shirts.”

“I’ve been talking to other vendors and staging guys who have completely lost everything on the books for the next 6 months,” he said. “Financially it’s going to hit us. Then you have employees. They aren’t working, so it affects their lives as well”

“We just have to pray and keep having faith the good Lord will help us out, and we can overcome this,” he said. “It’s kind of like a holding pattern for so many of us. Like sitting on the runway of an airplane that may or may not be able to take off. “

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