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St. Pete's Fighting Chance Fund Application Process Closes August 14ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - St. Petersburg business owners impacted financially by COVID-19 have less than two days now left to apply for the city's Fighting Chance Fund. CW44's Price McKeon spoke with one business owner who received relief money and used it in a unique way. Kelly Rodriguez Laureano and her husband own Sofia's on the corner of 24th St. N. and Central. "It's been a really traumatic I think, situation for most small business owners, not just us." The St. Pete small business owner shares a story that we've heard all too often. "It's really frightening to think how it will affect us in the long run," said Rodriguez Laureano. Restaurant owners in the Tampa Bay region and beyond have been forced to make tough decisions: laying off employees that are like family, throwing away thousands of dollars of perishable items only to reopen up to half capacity inside and remain that way for who knows how long. "You worry about [employees] being able to pay their bills and feed themselves and their families." Never giving up looking for fighting chance, Rodriguez Laureano applied to the city's grant, fittingly named, St. Pete's Fighting Chance Fund. She was approved for assistance. "I say, 'do it'. I mean, there's nothing to lose." That's her message to other St. Pete small business owners that were hurt financially by COVID-19. The grant application cutoff is approaching quickly, but Rodriguez Laureano says the application process is incredibly simple. Grant money is still available and applications will still be accepted through 5pm on Friday, August 14, 2020. Small businesses that are brick and mortar are eligible for $4,000. Home-based businesses are eligible to receive $2,000. If you own two businesses, each may apply for the grant, which is exactly what Rodriguez Laureano did. "I think it took me maybe 10 to 15 minutes," said Rodriguez Laureano. Both of her St. Pete restaurants received help from the city. At Sofia's, she thought outside of the box and use some of the money to build a box. More specifically, all of their Basil now is grown in-house. They've built planters to make outdoor seating more appealing which helps the patio scene flourish, hoping to attract more business. Rodriguez Laureano reiterates, "We all are in this together and that's one thing that so great about St. Pete. We are in this together." The grant helped to give her business that fighting chance and she hopes it gives other owners a chance as well. Again, the application process ends Friday, August 14, 2020 at 5pm. You may apply on the City of St. Petersburg's website.  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
2020 Census: Officials Urge Residents To Respond SoonPINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - The Census affects local food assistance, roads, healthcare and education funding. As Florida continues to grow, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch says billions of dollars in funding are at stake, so having an accurate Census count is at the top of the priority list.   2020Census.gov suggests considering of your morning commute: Census results influence highway planning and construction, as well as grants for buses, subways, and other public transit systems. Or think of your local schools: Census results help determine how money is allocated for the Head Start program and for grants that support teachers and special education. The list goes on, including programs to support rural areas, to restore wildlife, to prevent child abuse, to prepare for wildfires, and to provide housing assistance for older adults. “In order for the government to know we’re here, we have to respond to this census,” said Welch. “It’s almost as important as voting. You know, if the government doesn’t know that we’re there, then we don’t get representation [in Congress].” Commissioner Welch chairs the Countywide Census Committee. He says the urgency for all residents to respond quickly to the 2020 Census recently increased after the bureau announced it will end the nationwide count a month earlier than expected at the end of September. As of Tuesday, just over 63% of Pinellas County residents responded.  “Unless we want the funding that would normally come to St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Tampa Bay to go to Sacramento… it’s about fair distribution of resources from the Federal Government,” said Welch.  But it’s doesn’t stop at Congress; programs throughout Florida get about $44 billion in federal funding based on data collected. But because we’re a growing state and our population is continuously rising, Welch says we need that accurate count.  “And when you see things like that CARES Act which is sent for Pinellas County, $170 million to help our businesses, our families get through this COVID crisis, that’s driven by our representation in congress so it does matter,” said Welch.  He says, given COVID-19 is keeping most of us at home right now, we’ve been able to turn to technology to get the job done.  “Gives folks another reason to respond online,” said Welch. “We’re doing better than every county in the immediate bay area except for Pasco, and so Pinellas County needs to get on board, we want to be the best in the bay area and get that response rate up.”  According to 2020Census.gov, as of August 11, 2020, only 60.3% of Florida has self-responded. Here's how Tampa Bay Area counties stack up in the same time frame: Citrus: 65.8% Hernando: 68.5% Sumter: 69.8% Pasco: 63.8% Polk: 58.9% Hillsborough: 61.9% Pinellas: 63.7% Hardee: 43.3% DeSoto: 45.4% Manatee: 56.9% Sarasota: 63% Highlands: 57.1% To monitor reporting in your area, visit the 2020Census.gov website where you can also complete your 2020 Census if you haven't already done so.  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. 
Super Bowl LV: Tampa Bay Plans First Fully Free To Public FestivitiesTAMPA, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - Tampa is set to host Super Bowl LV in just under 200 days and COVID-19 isn't stopping plans to move forward with the festivities. Tampa Bay has hosted the Super Bowl four times and ready for the fifth. As one of the signature events surrounding Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay, Super Bowl Experience presented by Lowe’s, will be free and open to the public beginning Friday, January 29 and will span 2.7 miles, including the Tampa Riverwalk. The event will take place within waterfront parks along the Riverwalk and feature concerts, food and beverage, sponsor activations, NFL Shop presented by Visa and more. Super Bowl LV will be the first time that Super Bowl Experience will be free for all attendees and produced jointly by the NFL and Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee. Julian B. Lane Park will house the NFL’s free football theme park celebrating Super Bowl LV. Fans will have the opportunity to collect Player and Legend autographs, take photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy and immerse themselves in a variety of exhibits and interactive games. Fans will also be able to enjoy the youth-focused Play 60 Zone and other family-friendly activities throughout Super Bowl Experience. “We look forward to working with the Tampa Bay Host Committee on creating memorable moments that will celebrate Super Bowl LV and bring the community of Tampa together in a safe and meaningful way,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL Executive Vice President of Club Business and League Events. “We are working hard to ensure all activities during Super Bowl LV week will adhere to the latest public safety guidelines set by medical and public health officials, as safety is our number one priority.” Other parks along the Riverwalk will feature a variety of experiential opportunities including local food and beverage, music and entertainment, health and fitness activities, activation zones, and more. The Riverwalk will transform into a Super Bowl amusement park showcasing the destination’s culture and experiences of Tampa Bay. “Although these last five months have presented us with unprecedented challenges, our partnership with the NFL has never been stronger and we are ready for the opportunity to host the most important Super Bowl of our lifetime,” said Rob Higgins, President/CEO, Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee. “We are thrilled to be able to officially announce our blended-model, Super Bowl Experience in tandem with our friends at the NFL, in addition to our primary social legacy initiative, Forever 55, along with new host committee strategic partners today. We look forward to showcasing our hometown’s incredible growth, unwavering resiliency and very bright future through our community’s host movement leading up to and during Super Bowl LV on February 7th, 2021. We are confident that the positive impacts of this event will be felt in our community for many years to come.” More details about Super Bowl Experience and how to reserve free tickets will be announced at a later date. Fans can sign up to receive updates on the latest Super Bowl information at NFL.com/TampaSB. All NFL activities during Super Bowl week in Tampa Bay will adhere to the latest public safety guidelines set by medical and public health officials, as well as operate in full compliance all local and federal government regulations. For more information on the local host effort for Super Bowl LV, please visit the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee’s official website at TampaBayLV.com. ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Latest Reopening Plan In Pinellas County Public SchoolsPINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - Pinellas County School officials called a special board meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the latest changes to the districts reopening plans. The board has officially adopted face coverings for students and staff. Other details from transportation to cafeteria seating were also discussed and presented nearly finalizing all plans.  Last month, the school board voted on their biggest change to push the start of the school year back by almost two weeks. This allowed  more time for teachers and students to prepare.  Tuesday’s meeting lasted eight hours as officials went over every detail left on the table!!  “We can get the buses moving out of the bus ramps. Even going so far as to find, maybe a place down the street, a parking lot, something like that where the drivers can pull in, wipe down before they pick up that next student,” said Clint Herbic, Assoc. Superintendent, Operational Services.  Questions aligning with brick and mortar style schooling ranged from sick leave to directional hallways and eliminating student locker options.  “If you have a pending COVID-19 test, you are not to report to work,” said Sara O’Toole, Managing Officer, School Health Services.   “The employees and visitors will complete a self-screening tool each day. The district will inform and encourage our parents to conduct that self-screening for their child each day,” said Paula Texel, Assoc. Superintended, Human Resources.  District officials say every turn has been accounted for.  “We’re going to have to live this to kind of see how this works but these experts are going to be visiting our schools before and after students are coming back to give us advice and also they’re going to be making calls in terms of the quarantine,” said Superintendent of the district, Dr. Michael Grego.  “I feel confident in it. We’re doing all we can do. We’re at a point right now where I think we can move forward,” said Bill Dudley, Pinellas County School Board.  The district has returned to its normal hours of operation to assist families with registration including some extended hours. For the complete details visit Pinellas County Schools Reopening Plan website.  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
West Wing Hotel Converted Into COVID-19 Care Site In Hillsborough CountyHILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - COVID-19 positive patients in Hillsborough County, Florida can now go from the hospital to a hotel for continuing medical care. CW44's Price McKeon explains how this new project works. This boutique hotel on Fowler Avenue is now a new COVID-19 care site. "Hillsborough County has acquired this hotel to turn it into a transitional living facility." Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Ray Hanson explains the purpose behind the county refitting the West Wing Hotel to accommodate patients recovering from a COVID-19 hospital stay. "For the main purpose of freeing up hospital bed space of patients that don't require hospital care or hospital level care in the hospital setting." The county says the site serves patients who are eligible for discharge from the hospital but still need medical support and may not be able to go straight home from the hospital. "What the county has done to the hotel is they've upgraded the electrical system for the installation of an automatic transfer switch," said Hanson.  Hillsborough says the changes made are to accommodate specific needs of a medical facility. Hanson elaborates, "We will have a generator because, obviously COVID-19 is going to be lasting through the hurricane season. And we want to be prepared in case we have a long term power outage." "We're really excited and very thankful for this partnership with the county," Baycare Health Systems teamed up with the county to launch this new project. "This is really allowing us to meet community needs by expanding healthcare resources above and beyond what we have in our hospitals right now." Dr. Jackie Callie says COVID-19 patients who have to be hospitalized tend to take a long time to recover. "...and they tend to have symptoms for quite a while and remain infectious, even when they're ready to be discharged from the hospital." So now there's this option where patients can receive around the clock medical care until they can check out and go home. "...and so by having this opportunity we can house them safely before they go home and could potentially expose others in the household." According to the county, the hotel has 115 rooms. 50 of them will be used by Baycare. About a dozen rooms have been converted to support rooms which are like mini-nursing stations. Other hospitals and Hillsborough can use the remaining rooms if they need to. ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Violent Protesters In Beirut Accuse Government Corruption Led To BlastBeirut, Lebanon (CW44 News At 10) - People in Beirut, Lebanon are protesting against the government after a giant explosion killed more than 150 people on August 4, 2020. Demonstrators claimed corruption led to Tuesday's blast which destroyed thousands of homes and a large amount of the country's food supply. Grief has turned to anger in Beirut. Overnight, protesters battled security forces near parliament. They're furious that the government knew about the 2,700 tons of explosive Ammonium nitrate stored at a facility in the port and did nothing about it, despite warnings from customs officials for years. That neglect resulted in Tuesday's deadly blast. Rescue teams continue to search for the dozen still missing next to the smoldering explosion site. Family members wait nearby hoping for a miracle because the alternative is unbearable. Tatiana, the daughter of a missing victim of the blast said, "I think he's there, but I think if we continue to work slowly, probably, time will run out." Others confront their grim new reality. Corporal Georges de Abbas was one of those taken in an instant. He was donating blood when the blast killed him. On Thursday, people in the city greeted Emmanuel Macron with chants calling for a revolution. The French President vowed to help the people, not the politicians, "We need an open and transparent International Investigation to avoid, first of all, things being hidden, but also to stop doubt setting in." For now residents of Beirut start the long process of piecing their lives back together. An insurmountable task to repair a city of broken homes and broken hearts. More than 25 countries including the U.S. have offered aid to Lebanon including desperately needed money, medical supplies and food. ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Citrus County Sheriff's Office Nab 55 In Operation Coin TossCITRUS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - According to Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast, the fourth and final quarter of Operation Coin Toss has concluded, resulting in the seizure of more fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine off the streets of Citrus County. Originally started in June 2019, the first quarter of Operation Coin Toss targeted those responsible for drug trafficking and those who sell illegal narcotics.  Throughout the entire operation, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office Tactical Impact Unit (TIU) partnered with the US Marshals, the Florida Department of Correction's Probation Services, Citrus County Code Enforcement, and many other community partners. In the Fourth Quarter, TIU focused on reported drug overdoses and intelligence collected through these investigations. By obtaining information on suppliers tied to fatal drug overdoses, TIU was able to conduct covert surveillance and undercover drug purchases resulting in the combined seizure of 40 grams of deadly fentanyl, 143 grams of methamphetamine, 87 grams of heroin, and 30 grams of cocaine. The Fourth Quarter resulted in nine individual residential search warrants and 23 individuals arrested. During the process of conducting covert surveillance and gathering intelligence, an additional 32 individuals were arrested. The final quarter resulted in 55 arrests, 122 felony charges and 43 misdemeanor charges. "The focus of Operation Coin Toss is to dismantle the drug supply chains plaguing the vulnerable population of Citrus County," said Sheriff Mike Prendergast. "We continue to focus our attention on the dealers who are making a profit by exploiting addicts and their loved ones." In addition to seizing illegal narcotics, detectives were able to recover several stolen items and seize firearms from convicted felons. The Fourth Quarter yielded the recovery of a stolen Honda dirt bike, a stolen Suzuki four-wheeler, counterfeit currency making devices, and stolen firearms. There were several firearms that had been illegally modified or had their serial numbers removed. All firearms were seized and resulted in 12 felony firearm charges. "There is a direct correlation between the illegal sale of narcotics and the dealing in stolen property and other property related crimes," stated Major Justin Ferrara. "Focusing on the suppliers of deadly narcotics also allows us to recover stolen property and reduce the indirect crimes associated with drug sales."
SpaceX Astronauts Discuss Their Historic Mission To The ISSCAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - The two American astronauts who were the first to fly to space from US soil and nearly a decade, have been getting reacquainted with life back on Earth. Today they talked about their amazing adventures. After 64 days in space NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico. Just a few days after coming home, they say they're glad to be back on solid ground, "We're excited to be back we're already working through our exercise rehabilitation program to kind of get our Earth legs back." The veteran pilots were the first Americans to blast off from US soil in nine years, and then first to leave Earth on a rocket made by a private company. The rocket carrying the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 30, 2020. Hurley and Behnken joined the crew of the International Space Station a day later. They went on four spacewalks and performed about 100, hours of science experiments. Hurley related, "The mission went, just like the simulators and, and I, I'm obviously from start to finish, all the way there was really no surprises." Behnken added, "The greatest lesson folks could take from our experience is one of perseverance." Behnken's wife, Katherine Megan McArthur is also an astronaut. She'll helm the next SpaceX mission to the ISS in Spring 2021 in the same capsule that took her husband there. Hurley called the experience one of the true honors of his life.

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