Tuesday, November 17, 2020
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The Villages

Town squares resuming normal operations despite spiking COVID-19 cases

Despite continued spikes in COVID-19 cases in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, The Villages has apparently decided to fully reopen all three town squares – a decision that has drawn the ire of an elected official in the community.

The Villages initially pulled the plug on town square entertainment prior to the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in March when the pandemic first broke out in Florida. For the next several months, Villagers gathered in small groups at the town squares, some to line dance and others to just hang out together.

Some Villagers braved fears of the COVID-19 pandemic in October and took to the dance floor at Brownwood Paddock Square.

It was 202 days later in October when live music roared back to life and small groups of Villagers – many of whom weren’t wearing masks – came from across the community to enjoy a night out. The number of people allowed into the squares was limited – reportedly 250 at Brownwood and 300 at Lake Sumter Landing and Spanish Springs Town Square. Those attending also were required to have free tickets that were given out through The Villages Entertainment Department.

Attendees were told via a public address system of the need to practice social distancing. Bar huts were open but there was no happy hour and lines were discouraged. Some people wore masks but it appeared that the majority did not – face coverings were “requested” but not required.

Susie and Dan McCafferty, of Continental Country Club, were the first on the dance floor in October at Brownwood Paddock Square. They said they had been anxiously awaiting the return of entertainment at the squares and they enjoy spending time together in Brownwood.

Apparently that will all change on Wednesday night when town square passes will no longer be required. It appears that the town squares will go back to normal operations – a decision that concerns Don Deakin, a Community Development District 4 supervisor and chairman of the Amenity Authority Committee. He said he’s worried about the reopening of so many activities in The Villages as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. On Friday, The Villages was reporting 907 cumulative cases of the deadly virus, with the tri-county area reporting 24,206 positive results, 693 deaths and 2,194 patients requiring hospitalization. Likewise, the Sunshine State was reporting 870,552 cases, with more than 10.7 million cases across the country.

“We know that not only the state of Florida but our whole country is worse off now than it was when the original wave of the virus hit,” Deakin said.

He noted that there have been more than 17,000 deaths in the state of Florida due to COVID-19.

“We open up places like the squares, and people like me hunker down. Then we go to the store when we need essential items. Then we are in danger,” Deakin said.

Vendors were breaking down at Lake Sumter Landing in March after the St. Patrick’s Day celebration was shut down.

He said elected officials in The Villages should go on record declaring that opening up spaces like the squares jeopardizes the health of those trying to stay safe.

“We are not a normal population. We are unique. We have a very high population with health issues,” he said.

He added that masks are not a political issue.

“It is a health issue. When people don’t wear masks, they put themselves and other people at risk,” he said.

Fellow CDD 4 Supervisor Cary Sternberg disagreed with Deakin.

“At some point, we have to go back to living our lives. It’s a personal decision,” Sternberg said.

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