I've Been Living In Florida Since the Start of COVID-19, and I'm Regretting Some of My Choices

Emy Rodriguez Flores
Photo credit: Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images

From Woman's Day

When COVID-19 began ravaging large U.S. cities like New York and Los Angeles in March 2020, I was living in Orlando, Florida. And while the people living and working in the city were upended, my life remained relatively unchanged. I watched as my friends from around the country were ordered to stay inside. Meanwhile. I carelessly frolicked on white, sandy beaches. As those with the means to leave their small apartments in densely populated cities contemplated moving to a safer state, I was traveling to Siesta Key and Sanibel Island without a single worry.

It almost felt like Florida was in a bubble, immune to the societal and physical affects of COVID-19. When the first COVID-19 case hit the United States in January of this year, the state of Florida was unfazed. Even when the virus attacked the east coast a month later, my local government didn't enact any restrictions. Aside from Disney World and Universal Studios, every business and attraction remained up and running. The threat of unemployment was seemingly non-existent, and the state did what it does every year and began preparing for a summer season that far too many of us assumed would be busy.

Other states, however, made a serious effort to stop the spread. In Washington, the first pandemic "hot spot," people were almost immediately advised to stay home and non-essential businesses were closed. Today, residents are still sheltering in place, practicing social distancing, and wearing face masks in public spaces. These rules, among others, have helped Washington drop its new case count from almost 1,000 to less than 600 every seven days, according to The New York Times. When the virus took hold of New York, the state went into a complete lockdown that left residents in their homes for more than three months. Now, as of July 9, New York has reduced its new case count from 12,000 to 600 a week.

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But Florida hasn't seen the same results. As of July 9, 223,775 new cases have been confirmed in the sunshine state. This can partially be attributed to the relaxed mindset of most Floridians have (including the governor), as well as the lack of proper testing equipment.

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As cases in Florida rise, so too does my regret of not taking COVID-19 as seriously as I should have. I'm nervous, not only for myself, but for the people around me. I've realized that I need to make changes, and follow the lead of people in Washington and New York City. But I'm worried those changes won't be enough, be cause far too many others in Florida just don't feel the same.

Florida's smaller attractions are as busy as ever.

If you were to take a stroll through Siesta Key's Ocean Boulevard, you would think it's a typical, pre-pandemic summer day. Most restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor dining, and hardly any patrons are wearing face masks. The only noticeable CDC guideline being followed is the 6-feet rule, but even that fades as the evening goes on and diners have had a few more drinks. Some cities, like Miami and Orlando, have enacted curfews and alcohol prohibitions in an effort to stave the rise of new COVID-19 cases, but most establishments are ignoring that rule, possibly to keep the money coming.

Wearing a mask is sometimes viewed as a political action.

In some parts of the country, mandatory face mask use is viewed as a necessary action to protect human life. In Florida, however, it is often considered a violation of one's constitutional rights. During a commissioner's meeting in Palm Beach county last month, residents were outraged after there was a unanimous vote to make face masks mandatory. In a video from CNN, citizens claimed that the masks "are killing people" and accused the government of wanting to "throw god's wonderful breathing system out the door." Many also questioned the on-site doctor's experience and knowledge on the pandemic.

According to a review conducted by The Lancet, wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing (6-feet apart) lowers your chance by 10.2% of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Even with concrete data provided by scientists and medical experts, in Florida, and in other parts of the United States, wearing a face mask has turned into a so-called leftist political tool to push out an unknown doomsday agenda. But Kerri Quinones Lumsden, a nurse practitioner in Central Florida, tells Women's Day that it's anything but.

"I personally don’t think there's anything political about wearing a mask, it just shows you care about people," Quinones Lumsden says. "We need to have a responsibility to our loved ones and friends."

Some Floridian's think case numbers are exaggerated.

Since the virus was never taken seriously by the state's political leaders from the beginning, it's hard for Floridians to understand and accept the gravity of this unparalleled public health crisis. Even after 56 intensive care units in Florida hospitals reached capacity with COVID-19 cases, people still think the numbers are fabricated. One friend of mine, who lives in Orlando, went so far ask to ask if the rising numbers were some sort of "media ploy to terrorize the public."

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Trying to get tested in Florida is a challenge.

When researching how to get tested for COVID-19, multiple medical sites within the Central Florida area will tell you to either make an appointment or get a doctor's referral. If you don't have insurance or the ability to secure a referral, you have to opt for an appointment where wait times can be up to three weeks from the moment you register. If you're lucky, the site you're registering through won't crash during use, and you'll be able to securely schedule a time and place to get tested. Most times, however, sites are overwhelmed with traffic and crash, forcing users to start the process again. There are roughly four appointment-free drive-throughs in the Orlando area, and they usually have wait times of four hours or more. No one likes to struggle with a website over and over again, and the idea of waiting in line for four hours or more deters people from even going. As a result, people who feel symptomatic or are exposed to people regularly are less inclined to get tested.

Even after getting tested, some centers take up to five or more days to deliver results. This leaves an immeasurable amount of time to develop anxiety and effectively put a pause on your life, or assume you're negative and congregate with other potentially exposing them to the virus.

I hope Florida residents start acting more responsibly.

Since January 2020, COVID-19 has been taking the lives of people around the world, and affecting the lives and future health of many more. The outbreak turned into a global pandemic in March 2020, and there have been 11,910,220 confirmed cases globally as of July, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University. What's even scarier is that, according to The New York Times, the U.S. currently accounts for 3.0 million of those cases. Every state in the country should be acting as quickly as possible to stop the spread. Unfortunately, that's not happening.

At the start of the pandemic, I felt this virus was another H1N1 or SARS — something that happened "out of sight" and could therefore be out of mind; an issue that rarely if at all interrupted the majority of people's lives. I didn't believe typical activities like traveling, attending social functions, and sharing meals were a risk, to either myself or others.

But now, as the virus hits home, I will be proceeding with caution. As we enter summertime, I'm hoping that instead of waiting for our local government to enact quarantine regulations, the people of Florida will simply start practicing them on their own. We don't need to wait to be told to wear face masks, stay indoors, or remain six-feet apart from one another. We shouldn't wait to do our part to stop the spread of this sometimes fatal virus.

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