My Coronavirus Quandary in Florida
by Ronnie Lovler
Florida has re-opened, in a kind of, sort of type of way. Or I guess it depends on where you go. Head to the Florida beaches, and it might as well be a normal spring weekend before COVID-19 came to town. In Orlando, big box hardware stores are packed. In Gainesville where I live, things are going more slowly. Facial coverings are mandated in closed public spaces. We are transitioning from completely mandated shelter-in-place to something I call shelter-in-public.
Personally, I’m in a quandary. What to do? Where to go? I’m not comfortable putting aside social distancing. But how far do I go with this and for how long? I’m not sure and the signals are mixed. No clear directives from our perplexing president, whose statements contradict the prevailing wisdom of health scientists and public health professionals.
Since I abide by the counsel of the latter, I am being cautious. I pondered the problem over cocktails on Mother’s Day. As a Mother’s Day gift, one of my sons arranged for socially distanced daiquiris to be delivered to my door from Madrina’s Bar in downtown Gainesville.
Restaurants and some businesses have the OK to reopen for outdoor seating and at a 25 percent capacity indoors. But not all are racing to do so. For now many restaurants are sticking to curbside or takeout service. And some are just not opening yet. “It took us three weeks to put in place the protocol to make this work and for our staff to feel comfortable,” the owner of one popular restaurant told a friend. “There is no way you can change things at a flip of a switch.”
Some restaurants are opening and asking patrons to enter and exit wearing masks. Some offer scannable menus. Others greet customers with time limits and lightheartedness. At a local bagel bakery, 15 patrons at a time can enjoy socially distanced table service for a short spell, or as the sign at the entrance says, “15 minutes like speed dating.”
Because we are in Florida, it is easy to get outside for a hike. In Gainesville, our parks are a draw. Sweetwater Preserve Park is on the outskirts of the city. The greenness is stimulating and so is the fresh air. This particular park comes with a sense of adventure. No alligators crossed my path, but the signage reminds us that an encounter with these crocodilians, while not likely, is always a possibility.
I am done teaching until early July, so I have plenty of time available for fun and learning. Most often this happens courtesy of Zoom, my new best friend. There have been a couple of end-of-semester happy hours with other faculty. Last weekend, I logged onto to my regular Friday night Zoom dance party with a group of people from Ann Arbor.
Saturday night, it was theater in San Diego, an invitation that came my way through a writing buddy. I got to see Anti-Social Distancing, a one-act play performed live on Zoom. Daniel Watts and Melanie Mino, play David and Megan. For years, they have been meeting up for a weekend once every April, a la the romantic comedy Same Time Next Year. But this year, the time they usually come together falls during the nationwide lock down. So, they meet up on Zoom.
There are also opportunities for activism while staying at home. My son, a member of Jews United For Justice in Baltimore, invited me to join him at an online conference put on by the national Bend the Arc, another Jewish organization focused on social justice concerns. Over two days, we examined issues revolving around topics like immigration, gender, White nationalism and anti-Semitism. What made it especially interesting were the breakout sessions via Zoom, where we were able to engage in small conversations with other attendees from around the country.
I sat in on a presentation with Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumers Affairs Nikki Fried, currently the only Democratic statewide elected official in Florida. Ruth’s List,an organization that helps progressive women win elections in the state, sponsored that talk.
I also attended a webinar on how Puerto Rico is dealing with COVID-19, including ways to set up a biological barrier at the airport to keep the virus out. I began my career in journalism in Puerto Rico, and the island is still my passion. I had vacationed there in December 2019, and had hoped to spend some time there this summer, but that’s not looking very likely right now.
And because once a journalist, always a journalist, I have visited and learned from a number of journalism sites. The Knight Foundation is sponsoring weekly talks on “flattening the infodemic,” the wave of misinformation surrounding the pandemic. The National Press Foundation draws me in with their briefings on global trade and the food supply. I also learned more about using my iPhone from iPhone Life whose instructors introduced listeners to some really cool tools and apps.
And in a step away from Zoom, I have developed a new addiction, playing online mah jongg. That comes courtesy of my sister, who lives in Pennsylvania. Now she and I and two other friends meet up online at the mah jongg “table” to try our luck a couple of times a week.
My virtual life gets rid of geographic limitations. That’s why I can dance with folks in Michigan, see live theater from San Diego and play mah jongg, with “the girls” from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, all in a weekend. My goal is to find ways to stay socially connected at a time when I still remain socially, or more precisely physically distanced. Mostly I am learning how to be alone together, and finding that it may not be so bad after all.