Coronavirus reopening in Florida will continue to be a bust until everyone gets serious

If Christopher Scott could type, he’d probably post this memo somewhere on the internet:

“Dear Gov. Ron DeSantis, Floridians in general, Orlando Pride in particular, bar owners, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and anyone else who’ll listen; Why can’t we get our act together on coronavirus?”

Scott can’t type due to stroke he suffered six years ago. He lives in an Orlando nursing home with a lot of other people who’d like their lives back.

Nursing home residents have been locked down since March 15. They won’t open until Phase 3 of Florida’s reopening plan.

That won’t begin until there’s a downward trajectory in cases, and getting there largely depends on people acting responsibly.

Essentially, thousands of our grandparents, parents and high-risk relatives are being held hostage, and the rest of society holds the key.

Phase 2 began June 5, when bars, gyms and entertainment venues reopened. Restaurants were allowed to operate at 50% capacity. Basically, Florida’s social life was allowed to return to semi-normal.

DeSantis’ entire reopening strategy is based on people following simple guidelines. Stay 6 feet apart. “Consider” wearing masks. Wash hands frequently.

That won’t stop the spread of COVID-19, but it might well keep the numbers manageable. They have been anything but that lately.

There were 10,500 new cases last week, by far the largest jump since the pandemic began. Florida set a new record Wednesday, adding more than 5,500 positive cases. The rates of infection are way up, too.

Most are younger people, and the death rate hasn’t increased. That’s the good news.

The bad news is the new cases become carriers that can infect the vulnerable. And no matter how alarming the numbers are, a lot of people won’t react as needed.

We could start, as usual, with DeSantis. He no doubt takes the pandemic seriously in his heart, but he’s still soft-pedaling the crisis in public.

As cases skyrocketed last week, DeSantis was still attributing it to increased testing and laying blame on unsafe working conditions at business that employ migrant workers. He’s still in favor of letting people “consider” wearing masks instead of making them mandatory.

At least now DeSantis is admitting the spike isn’t just due to more testing. But the muddled messaging — the governor’s trademark from the start — has made it easier for people to think everything’s under control.

It’s not. Just ask members of Orlando’s professional women’s soccer team.

The Pride were set to leave Wednesday for Utah and the NWSL Challenge Cup, the long-delayed kickoff to the league’s season. But a group of younger players tested positive after going to a bar. Veteran player Sydney Leroux Dwyer responded on Twitter: “I’m heartbroken. The majority of our team & staff worked our asses off to put us in the best position to play the game we love again.”

With coronavirus, countless people can pay the price for one person’s irresponsibility.

Speaking of irresponsible, what’s going on with the dining and drinking establishments?

There were 335 complaints statewide of such businesses flouting social distancing rules in May, resulting in no fines and no other enforcement action, according to a report by the USA Today Florida Network.

That lax approach has been abused in Phase 2. The DPHR said Monday 152 cases have been linked to one unnamed bar near the University of Central Florida.

Perhaps everybody would sober up if they could spend a few minutes in a nursing home. Of course, that hasn’t been allowed since March 15.

It’s been too easy to forget people like Christopher Scott. After months of pleading, his wife, Rachel, was allowed to see him from a safe distance last week.

“He cried for the full half-hour,” she said. “He thought he was never going to see me again. He thought I’d left him there to die.”

Some version of that conversation has been repeated countless times since March. Rachel Scott has started an online petition asking for nursing homes to open.

The sad fact is the elderly are depending on younger people to act like they care. And too many people don’t.

At least the state is finally cracked down by suspending the liquor license of the Knight’s Pub near UCF on Monday. The state said the bar violated social distancing rules and at least 28 customers tested positive.

DeSantis said the “Grim Reaper” will be coming after more violators.

“Hopefully, people will get the message these guidelines are there for a reason,” he said.

And hopefully, everybody will get their act together when it comes to coronavirus. People like Christopher and Rachel Scott would be grateful.

Orlando Sentinel

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