Traveling in Florida during the Pandemic

My husband and I often do a January getaway to celebrate his birthday. Several months ago we decided to go to St. Augustine. While we knew it probably would be chilly as it is further north (it was!), we felt it was a bit safer than some other spots in Florida.

The plan was to fly directly to Jacksonville, the closest major city to St. Augustine, but sadly Southwest canceled our direct flight and put us on a route that went through Atlanta. Changing planes and being exposed to more people didn’t seem like a good plan. So we decided to fly to Orlando and do a 2-hour drive up to St. Augustine.

Thankfully, our flight to Orlando was not full, so we did have some spacing between us. However, the return was packed. It looked like a lot of people were returning home from Disneyworld. But people were all masked up and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We flew in October on another packed flight to Tennessee and did fine. However, Florida is more of a hot spot now than Tennessee was then. Nonetheless, I am lying low since my return (which is pretty much all I do now anyhow) and limiting contact.

My first observation when I got to Florida is that people in the airport were generally good about mask wearing and social distancing. However, once outside, that seemed to change. As a resident of Colorado (more specifically, the very left-leaning county of Boulder) I am used to seeing people wearing masks pretty much everywhere. Even outdoors, many people wear them or will pull them up if they see people coming toward them on the walking paths or sidewalk.

But that was not the case in Florida. We stayed in a condo that we rented out through AirBNB. I was surprised that our property owner actually did an in-person check-in. Nowadays that’s pretty rare here in the US it seems. (AirBNB encourages property owners to allow self check-ins, although it’s not required.) The issue I had was that he did not wear a mask when he met us at the condo. Wow! That was very strange.

When we were out sightseeing it seems that people did comply with mask-wearing rules at attractions with paid entry. However, it was hit or miss at stores. Signs were posted that mask wearing was mandatory, but I saw people in stores without them. In grocery stores all the clerks wore them, but some customers did not. Back in Colorado they would be asked to leave or put one on. On St. George Street in St. Augustine (a popular tourist area) only about 50% of the people wore masks. What I found most astounding was that some shopkeepers had signs up about wearing masks, yet they did not wear one themselves. Okaaay! I also had clerks standing outside with samples approach me, sans mask. Talk about unacceptable! No wonder Florida is having problems. It’s like they are living in an alternate universe.

As for restaurants, all the servers I saw wore them. Like in Colorado you are asked to wear masks at your table until you order (although compliance there is not always observed) and if you get up to go to bathroom. We ate out only once per day at lunch since we wanted to do patio dining and it was a bit chilly, even with heat lamps. It seems like that was a popular choice with most people, although I did observe a large group of senior citizens (at least 30) eating inside at one restaurant. They were all seated closely and at the time had no masks on and no food in front of them (I don’t know if they had finished or had just ordered, but I would have thrown a mask on in that situation). I did observe at one coffee shop in St. Augustine, City Perks, that the baristas did not have on masks. That would be a big no-no in Colorado.

For the record there are roughly 4.5 million seniors in Florida. From what I saw in St. Augustine they were some of the worst offenders. Most of the younger tourists wore masks. I also was very impressed one day when I walking on the beach where they were doing some beach restoration work when the young construction worker pulled up his mask to talk to me to tell I couldn’t pass at that time. Good for him. I wish all of the residents in Florida would adopt this attitude. I love this state and I have traveled here many times, but some folks still seem to be in denial.