We are sincerely hopeful that Villagers will use commonsense and take precautions against COVID-19 when the town squares reopen for entertainment next month.
Many Villagers with serious cases of cabin fever have been calling for the squares to come back to life with live entertainment after they were abruptly shut down in March when the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Florida. You can be rest assured that many of them have Monday, Oct. 5 marked in their calendars and will be at either Spanish Springs Town Square, Lake Sumter Landing Market Square or Brownwood Paddock Square for a night of fun somewhat like they used to enjoy before the virus disrupted life as we all know it.
But Villagers who head to those town squares need to remember something very important – this pandemic is far from over. On Friday, Florida reported 695,887 cumulative cases of the deadly virus across the state, along with 14,083 deaths and 43,299 people hospitalized. Across the tri-county area, those numbers were 19,256 cumulative cases, 528 deaths – 13 reported on Friday alone – and 1,745 people requiring some form of hospital care.
If those numbers don’t get your attention – we really hope they do – then consider this: On June 3 when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida was entering into Phase Two of his reopening plan, the Sunshine State was reporting 58,764 cases, 2,566 deaths and 10,525 people hospitalized. On Friday when he announced that we were moving into Phase Three, which allows restaurant and bars to operate at full capacity – something three Villages restauranteurs said simply wasn’t going to happen just yet at their eateries – those numbers had ballooned by 1,084 percent to 695,887 cases. Deaths also had risen to 14,083 and 43,299 people had been hospitalized.
If that doesn’t get your attention and scare you into taking precautions, we aren’t sure what will. It only stands to reason that a spike in numbers could be on the horizon as more people return to their normal routines. Marion County saw a definite increase after groups got together for Memorial Day. And health department officials are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that a similar spike won’t come from the recent Labor Day holiday.
While we question the decision to reopen the squares amid the ongoing pandemic, we will give The Villages credit for announcing a plan that includes built-in measures of protection for area residents.
For instance, those planning to visit the squares will be required to have an entry pass. They are free and can be obtained beginning Oct. 2 at The Villages Box Office at tickets.thevillages.com. Staff members will man a single entry and exit point to limit the crowd size – a measure Villagers need to support and refrain from giving that person grief for trying to protect them from a deadly illness.
Once inside the squares, there will be no happy hour, at least not initially. Drinks will be available at the bar huts, but lines rightly will be discouraged. Plexiglass shields also have been installed to help prevent contact between bartenders and drink patrons – another smart move that many restaurants across the local area have implemented as well.
Also, chairs won’t be provided at the town squares, meaning residents should bring their own. That measure is huge and will help eliminate the possibility of multiple people sitting in chairs throughout the night and possibly acquiring the virus from sweat left behind from Villagers who have been dancing and socializing.
As many of you will remember, when the pandemic first hit the local area, some Villagers didn’t take it seriously and continued to gather at Lake Sumter Landing. Sumter County sheriff’s deputies eventually had to get involved and disperse crowds from the covered seating area down by Lake Sumter – a fact we still find hard to believe given the way the disease was quickly spreading and tri-county residents were dying as a result of it.
As we said earlier, we hope that everyone who goes to the town squares for a night of entertainment next month takes precautions and protects themselves. As of Friday, 618 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in The Villages alone. If everyone uses commonsense and continues to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number hopefully won’t make a significant jump after Oct. 5.
That said, please be careful while having the kind of fun you’ve missed. Your life and those of your friends and neighbors could depend on it.