In early March, we watched our community gasp. We watched as the first COVID-19 cases were announced and a state of emergency declared. Some businesses stopped breathing altogether and were forced to close their doors. Many of those businesses have not recovered.

The facts indicate that coronavirus numbers are drastically increasing in the Tampa Bay area. As of this writing, over 54,000 Hillsborough County residents have tested positive for the virus, with almost 2,200 hospitalizations and 888 deaths. The median age of those affected is 37 years old. On Nov. 19 alone, Hillsborough saw a surge of new coronavirus cases reach 429.

Brian Butler is a retired Army officer and CEO of Vistra Communications.
Brian Butler is a retired Army officer and CEO of Vistra Communications. [ Courtesy of Brian Butler ]

Pinellas and Pasco counties’ positive test numbers have reached nearly 30,000 and 13,000 respectively, with over 2,700 and 1,100 hospitalizations and more than 1,100 combined deaths. Like Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco are seeing increases of new daily cases, according to the Florida Department of Health. Significantly, Florida is behind only California and Texas in the number of COVID-19 cases, according to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project.

Despite the pandemic’s intensity, shutting down life and business is simply not in the best interest of our community, but if we can’t curb this outbreak we may have no choice.

Maryann Ferenc
Maryann Ferenc [ Provided ]

We must stop further spread of the virus. Our lives and our economic well-being are at stake.

So how do we continue to operate, but safely? For starters, we can follow CDC public health guidelines that include these specific prevention steps:

· Wear your mask in public.

· Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub.

· Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when in public settings or around others – it’s worth repeating.

· Maintain at least six feet distance between you and people coughing or sneezing.

· Stay home if you feel unwell.

· Practice physical distancing and embarking on thoughtful travel safely and staying away from large groups of people.

“COVID-19 most commonly spreads between people who are in close contact,” the CDC further explains, and it spreads by way of “respiratory droplets or small particles produced when an infected person coughs, talks, or breathes. Growing evidence shows that droplets can remain suspended in the air and travel distances beyond six feet. Indoor environments with poor ventilation increase the risk of transmission.”

We can help stop this spread if we all do our part. The small sacrifices we each make can go far in the direction of keeping our neighbors and ourselves healthy.

So let’s protect ourselves on all fronts. Rather than wait for the end of the pandemic, perhaps we should be thinking about moving forward with a new normal — new ways to live and move while staying safe and healthy.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. “They account for 44 percent of U.S. economic activity,” according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. Small businesses’ economic life-giving applies equally to the Tampa Bay Area.

As Tampa Bay small business owners, we are pleading with our fellow citizens to practice safety protocols and serve as stewards of our overall public health.

Brian Butler is president and CEO of Vistra Communications. Maryann Ferenc is CEO and president of the Mise en Place Hospitality Group. This column was co-written with Ashley Butler, co-creator, Butler Automotive Management; Hugh Campbell, CEO, AC4S Technologies; Joe Collier, president, Mainsail Lodging & Development; Anddrikk Frazier CEO/president, Integral Energy; Robert Glaser, president/CEO, Smith and Associates Real Estate; and Roberto Torres, Luis Montanez, Christopher Findeisen, owners, Blind Tiger Café and Black and Denim Apparel Company.

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