COVID-19 cases are up, but many have let their guard down

Katerina Martinez continues to work at the Greenstreet Cafe in Coconut Grove while wearing a mask and gloves. (Layra Gonzalez/SFMN)

A recent explosion of coronavirus cases in Florida, centered in Miami-Dade County, has led some residents to believe that Gov. Ron DeSantis made the wrong choice in reopening the economy. 

“The threat of the virus is not gone,” said Malaika Vaz, an international student at Florida International University. “I feel it is foolish that people want to go outside and risk not just their lives, but others, over something trivial.” 

She believes people who are going out just to get a haircut or go to the gym are the reason why the cases keep increasing.

Florida has regularly shattered previous daily records for new cases, setting a nationwide record of more than 15,000. As the state approaches 450,000 cases, hospitalizations are also reaching record highs. The COVID-19 cases began to spike in May. This was attributed by some to Gov. DeSantis’s reopening plan.

At a press conference held at FIU last month, DeSantis noted that along with the increase in cases, the median age of those testing positive has declined. Most new cases were in people between the ages of 30 and 40 as opposed to over 60- the dominant group when the pandemic started.

“It is going to continue to go down based on what we’ve seen over the last several days,” said DeSantis. “Huge, huge numbers of people particularly in their 20s.”

Some areas of the state have issued emergency orders to mandate mask-wearing in public places. In Miami, those caught without a face covering can receive a $500 penalty, and businesses will also face stricter sanctions. 

“They weren’t strict with the rules when this started in March,” said Vaz. “This could all have been contained if they took it seriously, and now that people got over their fear because [the government] reduced the severity of the issue, they don’t care.”

Reggie Caicedo, a line cook at Le Chick Miami, sees about 70 people during his shift at the restaurant. He said that around two out of ten customers don’t wear masks while walking around the facility.

Pedestrians walking along Coconut Grove’s Main Highway during the pandemic. (Layra Gonzalez/SFMN)

“I know for sure that my restaurant is taking this seriously because the other day, we all had to go get tested,” said Caicedo. “I guess people are distracted with everything opening up, and are less afraid because they’ve forgotten [about] quarantine.”

Bridget Merkle, a front desk coordinator for Hematology Oncology Associates of Boca Raton, said that it is ridiculous how people are acting like the pandemic is over.

“When this all started in March, we had constant cancellations from patients, but now people are acting like [coronavirus] doesn’t exist,” she said. “I believe people should not be going outside of their house unless it is necessary.”

Merkle said that those who have routine, in-person doctor’s appointments should delay. Going to the doctor’s office or hospital for something that’s not serious, like a check-up, can put people at risk.

“We can’t afford to close our office,” she said. “Our patients have cancer and we are giving them chemo.”

Regina Fritz, a registered nurse for 44 years at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, is close to retiring although she continues to work approximately two 12-hour shifts a week. Video by Layra Gonzalez.

Amber Carter, a telemetry unit secretary at Aventura Hospital, never stopped working even when her floor became a COVID-19 unit once the shutdown began. Video by Layra Gonzalez.

 

The lack of fear is spreading faster than the coronavirus. From news reports to social media, it’s apparent that for many people, the urge to return to normal has overwhelmed people’s concerns about the virus.

Merkle feared not for herself but for others. She said she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she got the virus and gave it to someone close to her.

“I am not scared, I’m young and I don’t have any health conditions,” said Merkle. “I know I will be able to fight it off. My fear is that if I get it, I would give it to someone I love or a patient at work.” 

Layra Gonzalez is an FIU alumni in Journalism. She enjoys creating multimedia elements and using her photography for storytelling. After graduating from FIU, she will go on to receive her Master's degree in Speech pathology.

Nimechi Ikechi-Uko is a senior studying Journalism at FIU. She has an interest in writing. Her goals are to work for the Washington Post and get a book published.