COVID-19 sweeps through Florida mega-retirement Villages community, as residents ignore precautions

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The relative insularity of the community and its physical distance from areas of serious COVID-19 outbreaks within the state had apparently, up until this point, prevented significant increases in COVID-19 infections during the first four months of the pandemic. Those halcyon days, however, appear to be ending, and for a hugely vulnerable population, the mounting number of cases within the Villages since the beginning of July has been alarming.

As the Times reports:

Since the beginning of July, hospital admissions of residents from the Villages have quadrupled at University of Florida Health The Villages, the hospital’s critical care doctors said. As of last week, the hospital admitted 29 Villages residents, all of them with the virus, said Dr. Anil Gogineni, a pulmonologist and critical care doctor there. That was up from the single digits three weeks before.

In Sumter County, the biggest of three counties where most of the Villages is concentrated, the number of cases ballooned from 68 in the first week of June to more than 270 last week, according to the county’s health department.

Still, the reality of what is almost certainly about to crash down on them seems to be eluding some residents. As the Times article notes (and some of the photos accompanying the article illustrate), the areas’ golf courses remain open and in full use, as do the hair salons, bars, restaurants, and picnicking areas, by people not wearing any types of masks. Described are loud laughter and “line dancing” classes as these senior citizens congregate, seemingly unmoved by the SARS-Cov-2 virus literally encroaching on their doorstep:

They turn up the volume on a radio and dance in the squares. They crowd bars where songs by Elvis Presley and Bobby Sherman play. There are picnics and water aerobics classes.

Virus numbers from the towns just outside the confines of the Villages are even higher. It’s certainly possible that these are attributable to those “essential workers” who service the Villages residents in those same bars, restaurants, and golf courses.

Some of the attitudes displayed by the Village residents (as documented in the Times article) are rather telling. Upon being infected, some residents are described as becoming secretive and hiding the fact, as if they had some form of leprosy. As one resident interviewed for the article put it, “It’s like the plague and they don’t want to let anybody else know that they’re sick.” Importantly, residents say they have received no instructions to inform the property managers if they become sick, which suggests that no effort is being made to determine their contacts.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited the Villages on July 6, at that time heaping praise on residents for adhering to safety precautions. According to the Villages’ own news outlet, DeSantis “said he had been told by Villages officials about how well residents are doing with social distancing and other precautionary measures.”

But, as the Village-News.com site points out,

DeSantis’ comments would indicate that he isn’t aware of large groups that have been seen gathering at some area restaurant bars, private parties and throughout various other locations in the community. Line dancers often can be found congregating together in the Lake Sumter Landing area and thousands of people packed into the same town square recently for two separate golf cart parades – the majority of whom weren’t wearing masks nor practicing social distancing.

DeSantis apparently also wasn’t aware of Sumter County sheriff’s deputies having to patrol Lake Sumter Landing early on during the pandemic to break up gatherings on the covered patios, which eventually had to roped off to keep Villagers away from them.

In fact the Village-News article cites numerous instances involving Villagers regularly ignoring social distancing constraints. It’s not clear whether DeSantis was being unduly credulous to what he “heard” from Villages management or whether he was simply inventing some pleasant facts.

Whatever the case, it appears that the COVID-19 pandemic is poised to wreak havoc among one of the largest groups of Florida’s senior citizens, many of whom, predominantly Republicans, still appear to be in a complete state of denial. As Freytas-Tamura notes in her article for the Times, “About 20 percent of Florida’s population is 65 or older, the highest percentage in the nation alongside Maine, and that age group has made up half of its coronavirus hospitalizations and over 80 percent of deaths.”

Note: For a countervailing viewpoint regarding the Times’ portrayal from a resident of the Villages, please see this from blueash in the comments.

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