Florida was meant to be the safe option. In March I fled coronavirus-ridden New York for my childhood home in Boca Raton. How things have changed. New York had its first day with zero deaths since March this week, while cases here in Florida are soaring, and just like when I was a teenager I am contemplating an escape from my suburban town. After all, I’m still paying rent on my New York apartment.
I should have seen it coming. When I arrived in Florida, on a plane full of fellow escapers, it didn’t seem like anyone knew that there was a global pandemic happening — or if they did, they didn’t care. I watched as spring-break revellers boldly declared: “If I get corona, I get it. I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying.” The beaches were packed, restaurants were fully booked and none of the fear felt in New York made its way over.
I was cautious. After months of being sick with asthma last winter, I was scared my weak lungs couldn’t handle coronavirus, so I rarely ventured out. I was happy to be there — at least I had space, a pool, and wasn’t stuck in my underground studio flat.
FaceTiming a friend in Brooklyn, sirens wouldn’t stop. On the NextDoor app, where users post events in their neighbourhood, people in Williamsburg complained that fireworks went off long into the morning. On social media, I saw circles being drawn in my local park to aid social distancing.
Then, it changed. Last Sunday, Florida hit 15,000 new cases in one day. Strangers told me to “stay safe”. I responded that I was “staying inside forever”. Florida was no longer America’s viral epicentre — it was the world’s.
Yet Florida didn’t seem to know it. Shockingly, Disneyland opened, with long, winding lines. While Disney promised social distancing, videos emerged of long lines of people in Mickey Mouse ears pushed up against each other. The county I live in went viral after one resident called masks “the devil’s law”, while another proclaimed: “I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear — things gotta breathe.”
Florida was no longer America’s viral epicentre — it was the whole world’s
With Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis making statements such as “Florida is God’s waiting room”, New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo looked more appealing than ever. DeSantis swiftly opened up the state, following Trump’s orders. Restaurants were packed. Speakeasies popped up at nightclubs in Miami. People ignored rising cases and took pictures of brunch instead.
Whenever I ventured out I then spent hours stressing about whether I had caught the coronavirus, despite masking up and sanitizing nonstop. I watched my beautician wash her hands like a surgeon and disinfect everything in sight but still worried.
I downloaded a dating app in an attempt to speak to someone who wasn’t a member of my family, and was asked to get drinks at a bar immediately. I shuddered thinking about the germs.
As I continue to pay an exorbitant amount of rent for an apartment I haven’t seen since March (I just know there’s something wilting in the refrigerator), I’ve been thinking about going back, perhaps wearing a hazmat suit like Naomi Campbell. But my fear is that New York will have another surge. While I don’t want to live with my parents forever, I’m not eager to get back to Brooklyn and potentially get sick alone or be quarantined with no space. Florida has shown we are dealing with an unpredictable virus and we can’t be too careful.