Easing fears of unsafe Florida in face of high COVID-19 cases

Canadians looked with disbelief and bewilderment at their social media feeds as scenes popped up of crowded beaches, bars, and other public areas in Florida.  

How could this be so?

Even in late June, most Canadians were still slowly and cautiously easing their way into a post-lockdown pandemic world.

Not so it appeared in Florida, even though the state continued to see among the highest recorded cases of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States.  

How safe would you feel living in the sunshine state?

Gwyn Tremblay wishes to present another side of the Florida COVID-19 story.

Tremblay, formerly of Regina, lives in the Tampa Bay area. Tremblay is the former Executive Director of Regina’s Sophia House, a facility that provides safe housing and support for families trying to escape violent homes.

While Tremblay is concerned about the COVID-19 cases, she urges Canadians to see the bigger Florida picture.

“People are actually being very respectful,” says Tremblay who moved to Florida with her husband two years ago.

Tremblay spoke to us on In Real Time with Costa Maragos. Upon our request, Tremblay recorded and shared her phone footage as she walked along the popular Madeira Beach (south of Tampa Bay) to make her point.

“There are people on the beach but they are spending quite a bit of time separated from each other. They (beachgoers) are all six feet apart. It is just the angle of the camera that just makes it like they are not,” says Tremblay who pointed out that the scene she recorded that day is a common occurrence at Madeira Beach.

It’s a similar story at one of Tremblay’s favourite bars in the Tampa area where her phone footage shows scenes much like you would see in Regina bars and restaurants these days – limited table seating, single-use condiments, staff in masks, and sanitizer solution stations everywhere.

This is not the image we have of Florida.

So what gives?

Tremblay talks about the calls of concern from Saskatchewan.

“A lot of family and friends that call me always ask me. Are you going to the beach? Are we being safe? People in Florida want to remain safe and want the numbers in Florida to stay low,” she says.  

Tremblay figures Florida’s spike in COVID-19 numbers is due to in part to the excess number of visitors coming from New York and New Jersey areas as well as other parts of the US, after the inter-US travel restrictions were eased.  It is also important to see where in Florida those COVID-19 cases are coming from.

Nearly half of the reported Florida COVID-19 cases are concentrated in three of the state’s counties including the highly populated Miami-Dade County.

“So everything that you can hear about or see, it’s just not reality down here. Being here in Florida has not been so bad,” says Tremblay.

 Tremblay points out, she is being cautious.

“My husband and I are very, very careful. We social distance a lot. He works from home. We are very cautious. We get our groceries online. Go to certain places once a week just to get some social interaction and we have a close group of friends who regularly get tested,” she says.