In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and all the restrictions related to it, life goes on. People have to buy groceries and visit the drug store, and some still have to go to work.
The News-Leader spoke to some people – from a six-foot social distance – who were out and about last week on Amelia Island. Some were taking every precaution imaginable, while others said they are not very concerned about their chances of contracting, and living through, a case of COVID-19.
Jim and Sally Johnson Newsome were born and raised on Amelia Island and now live on Heckscher Drive. Sally said her father was once the mayor of Fernandina Beach. The couple drove to the Winn-Dixie in Fernandina Beach for groceries on the day Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a “safer-at-home” order that took effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning. The couple said they have been staying home, as health organizations have recommended.
Loading her groceries into her car, Sally Newsome said she is enjoying the time she is spending at home. “We are very happy,” she said. “This is the first time in my whole life that I have really had a chance to slow down and relax and just stay home and chill.”
“In previous weeks, I’m gone out once a week, if that, and wiped the bottom of my shoes with a bleach wipe,” Sally said. “I have wipes in the car. We have these masks. We will take off our clothes, even our shoes, and drop them in the washing machine. I don’t want to track anything into the house. Then I’ll take a shower and wash my hair.”
But some people are not concerned at all.
Cliff Green was laid off from his job as a waiter at Pepper’s Cocina Mexicana & Tequila Bar on Centre Street in Fernandina Beach. He was hanging out with some employees who were at the restaurant to make orders for take out. Green spoke during a pickup soccer game that took place on the patio of the restaurant. The establishment has lost 80% of its business according to a manager there who did not want to be interviewed.
“I go to the grocery store. I go to Walmart. I don’t worry at all,” Green said, adding that he is not taking any extra precautions, and welcomes the virus. “I want to be exposed to it, because after I’m exposed and I get over it, I’ll be immune to it. I want to get immune to it now while I’m off from work, then when I come back to work, I don’t have to worry about it.”
“I wish everyone would stop freaking out,” Matthew Yellin said as he did his job pushing grocery carts into Publix from the parking lot.
“We are still going to be open,” Yellin said, referring to the fact that groceries stores will remain open as an essential business under the governor’s executive order.
He said he is taking minimal precautions. “I’m not really concerned. I sanitize my hands before I leave work. That’s about it,” Yellin said.
Katie Weaver was loading groceries into her SUV. Weaver began working last week for the delivery service Instacart and said she has stayed “very busy” since beginning the job, but still follows a very strict personal protocol that includes lots of the hand sanitizer GermX.
“I GermX before I go in the store, when I get out before I empty my cart, then I GermX in the car, then I GermX right before I deliver, then after I deliver,” Weaver said. “I don’t go in people’s houses. I leave their stuff at the door.”
Following the governor’s safer-at-home executive order is problematic when one has no home.
The News-Leader spoke to Richard Voshell and some friends while they were having coffee at a local church. Voshell said he is part of a group of approximately 15 homeless friends in Fernandina Beach.
“That’s a good question,” Voshell responded when asked where they would go after the governor’s order took effect. “Probably in the Nassau County Jail.”
He explained that the homeless population has to be out in public.
“We still have to go out and get things to eat,” he said. “My wife and I rent a storage unit, our groceries are in a storage unit. Our clothes are in the storage unit. It’s against the law to sleep there. We go there in the morning. They have a restroom during business hours. We go in there and wash up and get clean clothes. All the public restrooms have been closed.”
Voshell said he believes that Florida’s closed school buildings could be used to house the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We aren’t asking for hotel rooms,” he said. “If this is going to happen, and go the way it’s going to go, all those schools are empty. Why can’t we stay in one of the gyms, six feet apart?”
Voshell said he feels safe where he sleeps at night, although he would not disclose where that is.
He said he believes the local community wants to displace the homeless people in Nassau County. “I think Nassau County wants us to go to Duval County,” he said. “That ain’t happening. I’ve lived here 26 years. I have two girls on the island.”
Voshell said the homeless population has been overlooked during this crisis.
“I can understand that we are probably at the lowest end of the food chain right now,” he said. “You still have to look out for the homeless, especially the homeless that have an income. I get $700 a month. I think I’m going to have more money than a lot of people real soon. It’s just not enough on this island right now, but there will probably be a lot of places to rent in a month.”