Coronavirus spike prompts little concern among islanders

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People lounge in the sands of Coquina Beach June 18 as the state registers a record-high 3,207 new cases of COVID-19 the same day. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice
A graph shows a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases in Florida within two weeks of the state entering phase 2 of reopening June 5. The state recorded 3,207 new cases on June 18 after reporting 1,305 new cases on June 5. At least 1,698 new cases were reported every day between June 11-June 18. Islander Courtesy Photo: Google

Manatee County — The first wave of COVID-19 is a tsunami.

Florida broke its single-day record for new coronavirus cases four times over seven days as the record escalated from 2,581 new cases June 13 to 3,822 June 19. More than 18,777 new cases were reported over the stretch.

The number of new cases reported in a single day never dropped below 1,758 during the seven-day period.

The surge comes after recording fewer than 1,000 new cases almost every day since the first case was confirmed in March. However, the last time the state reported less than 1,000 new cases in a single day was with 966 cases June 8.

Almost 90,000 positive cases had been identified in Florida as of June 19, with 3,103 deaths listed in association with the virus.

Ten Florida counties have reported more than Manatee County.

As of June 22, 1,977 Manatee County residents had contracted the virus and 126 deaths were associated with COVID-19.

Of the confirmed cases in the county, seven cases — including two nonresidents — had been identified on Anna Maria Island.

Four cases were reported in Bradenton Beach, and three were registered in Holmes Beach. No cases were identified in Anna Maria.

Early June 22, as The Islander went to press, the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach announced it had closed after a  “member of our team” tested positive for the virus.

A Facebook post said, “We feel this is the right decision to protect our staff and the public.”

Despite the surge in the state, many residents and visitors on Anna Maria Island weren’t too concerned with the pandemic.

“Here on the island, I’m not sure that we all took it as serious as the rest of the world,” Anna Maria resident Jim Sullivan said June 12. “And I haven’t heard of any consequences of that laissez-faire approach.”

Sullivan was holding a table for friends with his wife, Gale, at D.Coy Ducks Bar & Grille in the Island Shopping Center, 5410 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. The couple said they were happy to be able to socialize at a favorite local spot after bars reopened bars June 5.

“We hadn’t seen a lot of people in a while,” Sullivan said. “There were people we’d see regularly, but because of this coronavirus stuff, we didn’t run into them.”

Holmes Beach resident Richard “Boston” Burnes Jr., one of Sullivans’ friends, grabbed a beer and joined the table.

“Did I feel cooped up? Yeah, but, you know what? It was great,” Burns said. “I stayed home with the dog and got to watch TV.”

Another friend, Holmes Beach resident Anne Ricci, joined the table and said she was happy to gather with friends but remained cautious. She said she and her husband, Scott, refuse to dine indoors at restaurants due to their concerns with the virus.

“I’m a compromised specimen,” she said. “So, I’m not worried about it, but I am cautious. I carry around Lysol wipes wherever I go.”

Ricci said she was confident at the bar because she can trust friends to quarantine if they don’t feel well.

“I trust the others,” she said. “It’s the unknown that’s the scary thing.”

Sullivan agreed that he wasn’t concerned with the spread of the virus at his local watering holes.

“Us coming to a place like this and then worrying that we’re going to get infected? That’s not the biggest worry for us,” he said. “We’ve got an exclusive little group that’s remained healthy through it, so we’re not worried about gathering.”

While some people trust friends to limit the virus’ spread, others doubt the severity of the pandemic.

“I honestly believe it’s been blown out of proportion,” Melissa Wells said June 18 from a beach chair at Coquina Beach. “No one has ever explained to me how this is somehow worse than the flu. I’ve heard general things, but nothing’s convinced me otherwise.”

However, COVID-19 is not the flu.

Influenza was associated with more than 34,200 deaths in 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 in the United States has been associated with more than 121,000 deaths and counting since the first confirmed deaths in February, according to the CDC.

Of course, not everyone is doubtful of the virus’ potency.

Bradenton resident Ronnie Sterling said June 18 she was concerned with the spike in cases.

“It’s kind of scary,” she said. “But I think if people do what they’re supposed to do, we should be fine.”

Sterling, who was enjoying the scenery from a picnic table at Coquina Beach, said many beachgoers were respecting social distancing. However, she added, hardly any wore face masks.

The CDC says a mask is not necessary outdoors if social distancing is maintained, but recommends masks when social distancing is not possible and in public indoor spaces.

Some local governments, such as Tampa’s, have ordered mandatory masks for the public, but not Manatee County or its municipalities.

“I wish more people would,” Bradenton resident Dan White said June 18, as he soaked up the sun at Coquina. “I see people without masks sometimes and I don’t like that. The more people wear masks, the faster we can get rid of this thing.”

“People that don’t believe it’s for real should visit a hospital and see what’s going on,” he added. “People are dying every day.”

Bradenton Beach resident Doug Collums said he suffers from a respiratory illness, so he is wearing a mask in public.

“I’m not living in fear or anything, but I am cautious,” Collums said from his beach chair at Coquina. “But when you get out here, you kind of forget about COVID-19.”