Opinion: Florida or Floriduh? As it battles COVID-19 outbreak, Sunshine State proves stranger than ever
I spent almost two decades living in Florida and even I find it hard to choose which moment came out as my strangest.
There was a time when feral pigs roamed my suburban neighborhood, endangering a group of school children waiting for the morning bus.
Or the time an elderly driver almost accidentally knocked me off the road, but still boldly asked for direction to his intended location when I got out of my car to inspect for possible damage.
And let’s not forget all the chaotic voting in the 2000 presidential election. I covered it as a reporter and came face to face with civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson who was leading a protest. . Naturally, my job was to ask him about any rumors that the pop star and actress Cher might be in attendance. (Apparently they were wrong.)
This is a big part of the reason why nothing surprises me regarding my former condition, including her current COVID-19 situation.
“We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state and I can tell you, Florida, we are a free state.”
The number of cases in Florida has increased dramatically in recent days, with the Washington Post recently calling state “the epicenter of a summer peak of coronavirus”.
The number of cases has increased 103% in the past 14 days to 18,120, according to the New York Times tracker. Deaths increased 12% over the same period to 72, bringing the total number of COVID-related deaths in the state to 39,403.
Not that the other states are in such great shape. In New York City, where I was born and raised and returned more than a decade ago, cases have jumped 150% to 2,841 in the past 14 days, and coronavirus-related deaths rose 67% to 9, bringing the total number of deaths from the pandemic to 53,315.
But as many states and cities reconsider their pandemic restrictions, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has defied any calls for warrants or mask closings. “We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state and I can tell you, Florida, that we are a free state,” he said earlier this week.
This attitude is purely Floridian, provocative and independent. Say what you want, but the state walks to the beat of its own strange drum.
Florida is truly a transitional state. It ranks second in the country, behind Nevada, in terms of the percentage of non-natives.
Experts will tell you that there are many reasons for this. Let’s start with the fact that Florida is a transit state, with many non-native residents. Indeed, Florida ranks second in the country, only behind Nevada, in terms of percentage of non-natives.
The newcomer population includes many seniors, who are drawn to the sun all year round and the fact that Florida has no state income tax. (Even Governor DeSantis once referred to Florida as “God’s waiting room.”)
The result is that many Florida residents don’t really have a Florida connection. And by extension, they probably don’t care what someone else in the state thinks. “They care more about where they come from,” says Brian Crowley, a Florida-based political consultant (and rare native Floridian).
The lack of community – in my own experience of living there – was palpable at times to the point of absurdity. I used to go to Miami Marlins games (back when the team was called the Florida Marlins) and regularly found that most of the fans in the stands were supportive of the visiting club.
When I attended the 2003 World Series in Miami, which pitted the New York Yankees against my beloved Fish, as the Florida team is sometimes called, I almost got sprayed with beer from all the “Floridians”. Yankee lovers in the stands every time I applauded the Marlins.
There are other factors behind Florida’s strangeness (and loneliness). Some say relentless heat is the key. “It makes people angry,” says Craig Pittman, a Florida-based writer and author of the book, “Oh, Florida! : How America’s Strangest State Influences the Rest of the Country ”. Pittman says this explains why Floridians, when pushed to the limit, reach the closest plate of spaghetti.
There is also Florida’s status as the tourism and theme park capital of the world. It is a place where having fun and pretending is a daily reality. (I used to say that even though Florida didn’t have state income tax, it had an equivalent in a Disney DIS,
The point is, if you’re obsessed with roller coasters, you might not be as obsessed with wear a mask to protect against a deadly virus. “Tourism is living for the day and doing what you want,” says Pittman.
All I know is life got a lot healthier when I left the state and returned to New York. But it also got a lot more boring, even though I’m going to get boring during a global pandemic.