‘The Bubble’ cannot protect Villagers from dangers of COVID-19

New Coronavirus cases are being identified across Florida and the tri-county area at a rapid pace – a telltale sign that Villagers and other area residents need to take precautions immediately.

Just because Florida has partially opened back up doesn’t mean it’s time to throw caution to the wind. Wearing masks, social distancing, thorough handwashing and sanitizing are still highly recommended. It’s been shown that those are the best ways slow the spread and avoid getting the virus, and when you think about it, it’s not really that hard to just do the right thing.

Gina Rohr, a nurse with the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, speaks to a resident about the COVID-19 testing process. The health department tested more than 400 people this past Wednesday at a drive-thru site at Stonecrest in Summerfield.

Marion County firefighters hoped in May to test 400 people for COVID-19 in a two-day period in Del Webb Spruce Creek.

Unfortunately, many area residents appear to have forgotten those guidelines. That was especially true on the recent Memorial Day Weekend when large groups could be seen gathering in various parks and other places throughout the tri-county area.

If you’re one of those people who think COVID-19 is no longer a big deal and a health threat, then please consider this: Since Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida was entering into Phase Two of his reopening plan, the number of cases across the Sunshine State have increased by 52 percent.

That’s right, when he made the announcement on June 3 that allowed bars, movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades and auditoriums to reopen at full capacity outside and 50 percent capacity inside, the state was reporting 58,764 cases. On Friday, that number stood at 89,748. That means 30,984 new cases have been identified since Phase Two went into effect. And by the way, on Friday Florida also experienced it’s largest increase – 3,822 – since the June 3 announcement.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on June 3 at Universal Orlando Resort that 64 of Florida’s 67 counties would move into Phase Two of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That reopening plan included Sumter, Lake and Marion counties.

If you listen to DeSantis speak, he’ll tell you that the massive increase is a result of more testing being done and pockets of cases spread throughout certain groups like migrant workers and inmates in jails and prisons across the state. While that may be true, it doesn’t mean anyone should suddenly start taking the virus lightly. More than 3,100 people have died from it in Florida alone. And while the average age of those becoming infected with COVID-19 is getting younger, let’s not forget that Villagers and other area retirees are in the age group that’s most vulnerable to the deadly illness.

That said, the numbers in the tri-county area also are on the rise. In fact, Friday saw an increase of 90 cases in a 24-hour period for a total of 1,288. Those are divided among Sumter County with 277 cases, Lake County with 646 and Marion County with 365. There have been 46 deaths – two were reported Friday in Marion County – and 180 people have been hospitalized.

As we all know, many people seem to believe The Villages is a nice bubble that’s immune to the evils of the world. Unfortunately, COVID-19 didn’t get that message and so far 88 people in the massive retirement mecca have suffered from the virus – 76 in Sumter County, 10 in Lake County and two in the Marion County portion of the community.

We should point out that we know many Villagers and area residents who are taking this pandemic quite seriously. We know residents who don’t go anywhere without their masks and always practice social distancing and hand washing. We know restaurant and business owners who live and breathe your safety on a daily basis and do everything possible to stay in business while cutting back on the number of customers they allow inside their establishments in the interest of protecting their customers. And we applaud government leaders across the tri-county area who have gone the extra mile to broadcast meetings online and spread out chairs for those who attend in person.

Area residents crowded together in mid-May on an impromptu dance floor at Margarita Republic in Spanish Springs Town Square.

Participants of a June Flamingo Block Party on Deerfield Lane in the Village of Glenbrook practiced social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the other hand, we also know some folks who clearly aren’t taking this crisis seriously. Marion County saw its caseload jump after Memorial Day and the administrator for the county’s health department, Mark Lander, said it was partially traced to three large groups who ignored social distancing guidelines and failed to take other precautions as well during the recent holiday weekend.

We’ve also seen large groups of Villagers gathering at area bars and parties in their homes. We’ve seen some dancing close together at a Spanish Springs eatery who clearly had tossed social distancing to the wind. And at a recent politically driven golf cart parade, we saw very few masks and groups of protesters standing practically on top of each other while screaming at the top of their lungs and surely spreading those dreaded respiratory droplets that easily could infect others.

A crowd gathers outside Red Sauce in Lake Sumter Landing for to-go orders in late April.

The bottom line is this – COVID-19 is here and it apparently isn’t going anywhere soon. We know of two Villagers – Carol Lynch and Debbie Butler – who lost their battle with the illness through no fault of their own and left behind devastated family members and friends. And we see the numbers continue to climb both locally and at the state level on a daily basis.

So please take precautions and do everything you can to help protect your family members, friends and neighbors. When you go out into public places, please wear a mask and practice social distancing. Wash your hands frequently and if you’re not feeling well, please stay at home and avoid crowds.

We’ve got a long way to go until COVID-19 isn’t on the top of our minds on a daily basis. But if we work together and do the right things, we can help keep it in check and stop this massive spread of the virus we’re seeing every day now.

Casey Spofford wipes down the bar at Bluefin Grill & Bar in Brownwood in May.

 

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