STORIES BY BREANNA CATALDO

High schools in Jacksonville Have had Varying Struggles with COVID-19. Are Certain Schools Dealing with the Pandemic More Responsibly than Others?

Published: Nov. 21, 2020

When Jacksonville high schools closed for the first time earlier this year during spring break, staff and students had no clue about what was to come. As time passed, high schools and colleges have reopened – some a little differently than others. 

Duncan U. Fletcher High School, located in Neptune Beach, welcomed students back from the prolonged COVID-19 break August 20, 2020. At the beginning of the school year, students only attend school twice a week. The other days were spent learning online. 

“The rotating close and open days seemed to work for the time being,” said sociology teacher Gage Middleton. “Our cases were kept at a minimum, and the school was being deep cleaned on the days students were distance learning online.” 

With the COVID-19 cases remaining low and the mask-on-all-day policy, Fletcher High School seemed to be doing well. In an attempt to return to normalcy, Fletcher’s principal and the school board decided to have students go back to school full time – five days a week. 

“Students were still required to wear masks everywhere they went. Our class sizes were reduced and water fountains still weren’t usable. The school obviously gained a few cases but it was nothing extreme,” said Middleton. “What really got us was homecoming.”

Shortly after opening up full time, a party took place following the high school’s homecoming that resulted in over 40 students testing positive for COVID-19.

The school underwent extensive cleaning procedures and was closed for a little over two weeks. Then, they went back full-time. Students who were still covid positive or felt sick after the two-week break were encouraged to stay home. 

On the opposite side of town, Terry Parker High School was dealing with the pandemic a little differently. Terry Parker has remained on an alternating in person and online schedule since they opened in August. 

Like Fletcher, desks are guarded with plastic shields, face masks are required all day and class sizes when in person are smaller. 

Protective frames around desks. Photo courtesy of Deborah Kootsouradis.

“We honestly aren’t doing bad at all,” said Terry Parker English teacher, Deborah Kootsouradis. “We actually have only had I think one or two cases since school has opened. Currently, we have zero. Our staff and principal have done a great job of keeping things cleaned and distanced, and I think keeping students online on certain days has helped with tracing and keeping cases at bay.” 

Terry Parker has yet to announce whether they plan to go back full-time soon. 

For information on how high schools in Duval County are dealing with COVID-19 and to keep up with cases, visit the COVID-19 case dashboard.

COVID-19 has disrupted families, schools and life in general, but how have local businesses been impacted?

Published: Oct. 17, 2020

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When COVID-19 first began, no one envisioned life as it is today. While many people were in the store isles scavenging for toilet paper, local business owners were wondering how they’d keep their doors open.

Elisabeth Danzey, customer service worker, disinfecting food trays at Biggies Pizza. Photo by Breanna Cataldo.

On top of the initial worry local business owners had, there were also local businesses shutting down. With the added stress from the pandemic, business owners began doing what they could to keep their open signs on and their customers safe. 

Closing down was not an option for Biggies Pizza. In February 2019, Biggies Pizza had two locations. One in Jacksonville Beach and one in Riverside. Both locations have kept busy throughout the pandemic, according to the manager of the Riverside location, Kendal Gabriel. 

Staff at the Jacksonville Beach location even decided to take this time to renovate the inside of the building. This location is strictly to-go, for now. 

“Doing takeout only hasn’t actually slowed down business at all,” said manager Hannah Pacheco. “If anything, we’ve gotten even busier. I mean, we’ve explained to our customers that our decision to do takeout only has been because of the renovations. They’re actually excited to see what it’s going to look like once we are finished.” 

Biggies Pizza has been able to keep business booming during this time, while also opening an entirely new location on Southside Boulevard. The new Biggies Pizza location has indoor seating. 

     “Obviously, when you first open a business or a new location, it will take some time for your place to take off,” said customer service worker at Biggies Pizza Southside, Elisabeth Danzey. “Since Biggies already had two other locations and a decent Instagram following, the Southside location really didn’t take any time at all to get busy.” 

Another local business that began at the beginning of COVID-19 is Anna Grace Swimwear. Company owner Anna Grace realized that there wasn’t much to do besides swim or go to the beach when everything was closed down. Thus, she created a sustainable swim suit company. 

      “I myself was bored when everything closed,” said Grace. “I’ve had this idea for a long time, but I figured, what better time than now to hop on it? Like, who doesn’t love shopping for a new bathing suit and then showing it off at the beach? It’s all anyone could do for fun at the time anyways.” 

Anna Grace Swim Suit, Beige. Photo by Breanna Cataldo.

While business took off for Grace, there was one complication. 

“Buying sustainable fabric and products is a lot more difficult than indulging in fast fashion fabric,” said Grace. “If I wasn’t dedicated to keeping this company clean and sustainable, I could get my fabric shipped to me in a week.” 

  Grace once had to wait almost a month to receive her supplies in the mail because of COVID-19 and the lack of sustainable fabric companies. Grace hand-sews the suits herself, using sustainable fabric her customers know and love. Regardless of the delay on supplies, customers were happy to wait, knowing their suits would be better for the planet. 

“I have big plans for this company,” said Grace. “Eventually I want it to be a surf brand. I plan on making rash guards and men’s swimsuits. It’s just amazing that people have been so giving to local businesses during this time. All of these customers, especially during a pandemic where not everyone has much money to spare, have really given me hope that my company can keep growing.”