The sliding glass doors opened. I grabbed a cart and went into Publix, a local grocery store here in Tampa, Florida.
The boisterous colors of all the retail brands greeted me, each vying for my attention. Then, I saw my first person. He was an older man, with daggers extended from his eyes directly at me. Then, a second person had a similar fire in their glare.
I wondered what I’d done wrong. Then it hit me, “I forgot my mask.” I put my cart away and headed back to the house. It was a minor inconvenience. But worth it.
Outside of that blip, I've been good, as has everyone I see here in Tampa. Social distancing has been practiced. Everyone has masks on. But I, like so many of you, have watched in horror as COVID-19 cases continue to hit staggering numbers.
It’s been a bit of a slow train wreck. I sat here months ago, watching New York’s nightmare unfold, deeply concerned about how my state would do. I wish I could say I’m surprised that it has been such a mess, but I’m not. We are a wild state with a diverse set of people who have strong opinions.
It’s been frustrating because, at the local level, people are trying so hard. We are all sanitizing, wearing masks, and locking down. My girlfriend and I have never been more stir crazy. Yet outsiders seem to think we are all doing whatever, having a total free-for-all.
We Floridians usually know who the culprits are in our area. How? Because they love to announce themselves.
I’ll give you a perfect example. This is someone I know from my local area. She posted this on Facebook (I’ve have muted her name for anonymity):
I immediately knew her post was going to be a mess. It was so shortsighted. Three days later, it popped up again on my feed because of the high activity on it. She had several people who were infuriated with her post, and rightfully so. One woman had just lost a parent to COVID-19. Another had a family member in the hospital.
The political climate has become so incredibly divisive. It’s become a political statement not to wear a mask. It has had very real consequences that have extended throughout the country. People who have boasted about not wearing a mask have paid severe prices, not only dying but taking family members with them.
The starkest example I’ve come across:
I was initially skeptical of the story. When I went and did further research, I discovered the story was, unfortunately, true.
Facebook confirmed it:
So did the funeral home:
As much as the guy was asking for it, you never want to see someone die. The comments on social media have been particularly ruthless, citing we should “Let Darwinism do its work,” and people posting “lol” and other cruel acronyms. He made a mistake. One should let the dead rest in peace. The man was a product of an environment where information has been convoluted and people being warped.
That misinformation is exactly what is driving so much of the problem here in Florida. I’m not a very political person. I actually hate politics and don’t have particularly strong opinions in one direction or the other. Consequently, the amount of finger-pointing I’m seeing here in Florida is beyond frustrating.
There was a time when national emergencies brought people together. We unified and got on the same page. It now feels like we’ve ripped the book up and torched it with lighter fluid.
Florida is hell right now. I spend my days in my house, avoiding all contact with humanity. I don’t like the word dystopian, because it’s cliche, and overused. But if there’s a synonym, it applies.
All it takes is a small percentage of people who refuse to take this pandemic seriously to exacerbate everything. The people who constantly rave about masks not mattering concern me for more reasons than the mask itself. That attitude is probably correlated to a lot of other unsafe practices: not social distancing, not washing hands, and not sanitizing things you’ve touched.
Throughout the country, you see this bottom 1% that are wreaking havoc. For example, there was the 30-year-old man who attended a COVID party, was infected, and hospitalized. He eventually died and his last words were, “I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not."
The virus is spreading. You might disagree about how things are being handled, or how the stats are being reported. You may have all sorts of reasons. Just remember, there are zero credible doctors who are discrediting the severity of this pandemic. Would you rather get it now or later? The vaccine may not be here for some time but doctors are learning more and getting better at treatment with each passing month.
Florida is a swing state and we are in an epic election year, which hasn’t helped things. As a political-outsider, I don’t think it has been productive to blame only republicans or say that the BLM protests are fueling this. The finger-pointing just further galvanizes us and moves more people away from the fact that we need to be safe.
My state is on fire. It sometimes feels like I’m surrounded by potential assassins. I constantly wonder, “Is it him? Does he have it?” The paranoia makes me feel like Stalin in his later years, who was constantly in fear that everyone near him was a traitor.
At the base of it all, I just don’t understand this feeling of invulnerability people have. They argue with the stats and the lethality of the disease. Even if you are the healthiest demographic, or if the risk of death is the lowest number of .1%, you should still be taking this seriously. Using the old skittles analogy, I’d wager if you had a bowl of 1000 skittles and one was sure to kill you, you wouldn’t eat any of the skittles. But who knows. This pandemic has revealed a lot about people and their thought processes.
I’m just trying to get through this without spreading the disease to people I love. Wear the mask, please. The price of being wrong is too high.