I Live in the Florida Panhandle, Where the Covid-19 Pandemic “Ended” Months Ago

If you’d like to get back to a life post-pandemic, just take a drive down south. I live in the Florida Panhandle, where everyone is acting like everything is perfectly normal. Don’t believe me? Come and see for yourself. We’re even open for spring break.

Without giving away my exact location, I’ll explain a little bit about the area. First, I live in a beach town. We are known for our white sugary sand and crystal blue waters. My town is breathtaking and often included in listicles like The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches. Because of our massive curb appeal, our area thrives on tourism. Most of Florida does. This means that a shutdown could break us, and it almost did. So, while our controversial governor played by the rules for a little while, he eventually grabbed on to an opportunity he couldn’t resist: open back up, and the tourists will come.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, my part of Florida went along with the lockdowns. Bars, movie theaters, and schools were closed. I live in the Bible Belt, and even our doggone churches were closed on Easter Sunday. We thought the world was coming to an end.

That lasted about two months. Then, the first phase of reopening was declared, and suddenly, the lights were switched back on. Restaurants were supposed to operate at 50 percent capacity, and while some complied, most did not. And you know what? Patrons didn’t care. They came, they ate, and they gathered just like they always had.

This surprised me. I was still afraid to go out, and I thought other people would be, too. I didn’t even like going to the grocery store. There I was wiping down my groceries with sanitizer, while 20 feet away, my neighbors were having a party. By the time we’d entered Phase 3, I looked around and thought, Wait, so is the pandemic over?

By the time we’d entered Phase 3, I looked around and thought, Wait, so is the pandemic over?

From the moment I first became aware of COVID-19, two months before it began rapidly spreading in the US, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was coming. It’s a sixth sense I have, one I blame on my PTSD. Six years ago, my first husband died, and since then, I get these feelings that warn me of danger. I hate it when they’re right. For a while, my area avoided a major outbreak of COVID-19. Now, we’re at roughly 20,000 cases.

By this point, I know more people who have had COVID-19 than haven’t. My brother got it first. My sister-in-law was next, then my coworker, my best friend and her entire family, my uncle and his kids, my mom, and even my veterinarian. My second husband got it in August and was very sick. He never gets sick. I know a woman who got it twice. The second time, she flat-lined in the hospital and almost died. My area has now lost more than 300 people to COVID-19. Our population is not quite 200,000. I knew some of the people who died. My heart breaks for their families.

Yet, when I go out, I’m one of the few taking precautions. I wear a mask everywhere I go, but masks are not mandated. When I walk into a place sporting my KN95, people look at me like I’m wearing a life preserver. Some businesses require you to wear a mask, but most do not.

Most everyone I know is going about life like normal: birthday parties, weddings, barbecues. They’ve moved on from the pandemic. Except for our schools, which resumed in-person classes in late August. They mandate masks and practice social distancing. We have yet to have a major outbreak in our schools, and for that, I’m thankful.

Most everyone I know is going about life like normal: birthday parties, weddings, barbecues. They’ve moved on from the pandemic.

I’m at the point where I realize that, in my town, things like wearing a mask, saying no to a party invitation, and avoiding bars come down to personal preference. I can’t see into the future, so I have to make the decisions I think are best for my family. Others have to do the same.

I get that many people have COVID fatigue, and they want to feel normal again. Recently, someone called our area the “COVID bubble.” I found that interesting because it’s true. Not because we’re protected from COVID, but because some are protected from the fear of it.

A lot of folks in my community would rather live their lives than live in fear. Some might say that’s because they don’t care about others’ health, but I disagree. I know preachers, principals, and musicians. I’ve argued with doctors, lawyers, and stay-at-home moms. They all care deeply for others, but they have not let COVID transform their lives. I’ve been mad at them. I’ve been frustrated at so many for turning a blind eye to what’s taking place. But recently, I’ve realized that my feelings are my own, and they’re entitled to the same. That’s freedom, for better or worse.


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