With many of Florida’s sandy beaches still open to the public and governmental representatives standing firm in their alliance with President Trump, it’s understandable that many residents may feel confused — or even experience a false sense of security — when it comes to following social distancing measures or whether it’s really necessary to shelter in place. But given that the state’s death toll has now surpassed 1,100 and there are at least 32,138 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Florida alone, it might be high time for seniors in the Sunshine State to start taking the pandemic seriously. And that means staying at home.
Although Governor Ron DeSantis has claimed that Florida has fared better than anyone expected in regards to the pandemic, there’s little doubt that a large portion of the state’s population can be categorized as part of the vulnerable group at-risk for contracting COVID-19. In fact, it was only yesterday that Gov. DeSantis referred to Florida as “God’s waiting room” in an attempt to make a point of the number of nursing homes and other care facilities in the region. The first baby boomers turned 65 in 2011, beginning a trend of growth within the senior population that will continue until 2030. It won’t be long before seniors outpace any other age demographic in the U.S., but senior citizens are clearly more plentiful in Florida than other parts of the nation. A recent Pew Research Center report found that 19.1% of Florida’s population was over the age of 65 in 2015, while the state’s Department of Elder Affairs found that around 19.9% of Florida’s population fell into the 65-plus category as of 2018. In other words, Florida has more older residents than any other state in the country.
It wasn’t until April 3 that a safer-at-home order was issued by Gov. DeSantis — and the activities deemed as “essential” under that order are a bit different from what other states have decreed. Salons and many other businesses have been shuttered for the time being, which means that the 70% of women in the U.S. who say they use hair coloring products will need to take care of their own dye jobs at home.
However, there is contradictory guidance from Governor DeSantis on Florida still allowing religious services to continue in the midst of the pandemic; even so-called megachurches can find a way to continue to hold in-person worship services, despite prior local bans and recommendations from health officials. Of course, residents can still make trips to buy groceries and medications. They can also care for a loved one or friend, take care of their pets, and participate in outdoor recreational activities (provided that social distancing guidelines are followed).
The wording of Florida’s safer-at-home directive has been criticized as being too vague. Still, senior citizens with health issues have been directed to stay home to limit their exposure. In general, experts recommend that seniors be as cautious as possible and to rely on delivery services whenever possible. Those who are unable to afford or access delivery services should rely on neighbors, relatives, or friends to drop off necessary items. It’s important to note, however, that those living in elder care facilities will not be able to access these services, as nursing homes remain closed to visitation. A list of nursing care facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was just released, revealing that over 300 facilities in 45 Florida counties had residents or staff who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, so these individuals will need to remain isolated until the incubation and contagion period has lapsed.
Although 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, seniors may not be so inclined to access or trust information from reputable news outlets or even the websites of official health or government agencies. What makes things even more confusing is that every county has its own variation on stay-at-home orders to follow. Seniors, along with Florida residents of all ages, need to gain a thorough understanding of both the risks and best practices to keep in mind. Even if these measures are not mandated, following them will improve our ability to keep everyone safe.