We find it disturbing that despite continued spikes in new cases of COVID-19, The Villages has decided to fully reopen all three town squares.
That decision came as Florida’s Friendliest Hometown surpassed 900 cumulative cases of the deadly virus, while the tri-county area reported 24,206 positive results, 693 deaths and 2,194 patients requiring hospitalization.
We have to wonder if the powers-that-be in The Villages bothered to look at the current COVID-19 numbers before making the reopening decision or if they just decided they were tired of hearing complaints from stir-crazy residents. Or maybe like most things in The Villages, it all came down to money and they were fed up with losing cash at the drink huts and at area businesses that still have to pay exorbitant rent to occupy spaces on Villages property.
This absurd decision is especially concerning given the fact that when the pandemic first broke out in March, The Villages brass did the right thing and quickly shut down the St. Patrick’s Day celebration and all three town squares. That decision came after the Sumter County Health Department urged “public distancing” to stop the spread of the virus.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in the local area fluctuated over the next several months as many Villagers took precautions like social distancing, washing their hands and wearing masks in public. That clearly led to a decision in October – 202 days after the initial shutdown – to reopen the town squares with COVID-19 precautions in place. Those attending were required to have free tickets to get into one of the squares – reportedly 250 at Brownwood and 300 at Lake Sumter Landing and Spanish Springs.
We had our doubts about that reopening plan, which were justified when we discovered that many Villagers returning to the town squares weren’t wearing masks. But we were happy to hear that attendees were being 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. But we were left scratching our heads when we learned that face coverings were “requested” but not required.
Unfortunately, those precautions will be tossed aside Wednesday when the town squares will fully reopen. That means seeing residents wearing masks will most likely be a rarity, and social distancing will probably be a thing of the past. That makes us wonder if we’ll see another significant spike in new COVID-19 cases, and if so, how The Villages money-hungry leaders will react.
If you think we’re being too cautious or nitpicking the Developer and his next generation of family members – a group we like to call the Morse Millennials – then consider this: On June 3 when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida would move into Phase Two of his reopening plan, the state was reporting 58,764 COVID-19 cases, 2,566 deaths and 10,525 people hospitalized. The tri-county area was reporting 824 cases, 39 deaths and 158 people in area hospitals.
Fast-forward to Friday, when Florida reported 870,552 cases, 17,658 deaths and 51,542 people hospitalized. In the tri-county area 24,206 cases had been reported, with 693 deaths and 2,194 people hospitalized.
For those into math, that’s a 1,381 percent increase in the number of cases across the state and a 2,837 percent increase in cases in the local area. If that’s not enough to make you avoid crowds of people you don’t know who aren’t wearing masks, then we’re not sure what would get your attention.
It’s also heartening to know that we’re not the only ones upset about the reopening town squares. Don Deakin, a Community Development District 4 supervisor and chairman of the Amenity Authority Committee, said Friday that he’s worried about the reopening of so many activities in The Villages as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.
“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. “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, adding that 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,” Deakin said, adding 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.”
Frankly, we couldn’t agree more with Deakin and we’d suggest that if you’re still not sure of the importance of protecting yourself in every way possible against COVID-19, then take a moment and think about those Villages residents who lost the battle with the deadly virus. We know of at least five – 84-year-old Carol Lynch, 77-year-old Michael Yander, 77-year-old Kenneth Dale Parrish Jr., 67-year-old Debbie Butler and 87-year-old Susan P. “Sue” Coakley – and we’re guessing their friends and loved ones would have some pretty strong opinions about the town squares reopening while numbers of new cases across the state and the local area increase every day.
That said, we encourage every Villager and all area residents to think twice about putting themselves at risk in the crowded town squares. COVID-19 doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon and as Deakin said, the population of The Villages is unique. So please take precautions and continue to protect yourself in every way possible. It’s a matter of life and death – plain and simple.