MIAMI—By the end of next week, Nancy Krinick expects to get her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But the 67-year-old legal secretary from Sunrise, Florida, plans on keeping her daily routine of avoiding virtually all human contact even after she’s fully inoculated. The same goes for her sister and her brother-in-law, both of whom are over 65 and got their first shots together with her at Marlins Park in Miami, Krinick told The Daily Beast.
“With these new variants, we are still worried,” she said, adding, “It seems like this is never-ending.”
She will continue to get her groceries delivered to her home via Instacart, avoid dining out, and put off visiting her daughter in Knoxsville, Tennessee, until a majority of the U.S. population has been immunized, Krinick said.
As extra-contagious mutations of the coronavirus gather strength like a hurricane churning off the Atlantic coast, Floridians like Krinick see no sign of respite. While they have yet to issue formal guidance on congregating by vaccinated people, state and national health experts have assured the general public that the vaccines are effective—even, if perhaps less so, against the variants surging nationwide.
But in a state with a long history of pandemic recklessness and where mask mandates are nonexistent, vaccinated Floridians don’t want to risk getting infected by going out in public.
Here, getting a shot offers little more than a modicum of relief.
Thanks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ongoing approach of forcing his state to be wide-open for business and pleasure, surges in community spread seem virtually inevitable. Last weekend, despite warnings from state epidemiologists, a host of potential superspreader events took Tampa by storm, punctuated by legions of Buccaneers fans, a majority of them maskless, celebrating the home town’s victory when the Super Bowl wrapped up.
“Everytime I see superspreader events like that, yes it does scare me,” said Mark Zeitlin, a 70-year-old from Boynton Beach, Florida, who’s gotten both his shots. “It’s not only Tampa. It’s happening everywhere.”
Glenn Charnizon, a 66-year-old from Delray Beach, Florida, who also got both doses, said he and his wife won’t be dining out, traveling, or going to the grocery store for a “long, long time.”
“Just because we got vaccinated doesn’t mean we can’t get COVID,” Charinzon said. “We’re not taking any chances until 70 to 80 percent of the population is vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, the Biden White House is reportedly considering new restrictions on domestic travel with huge implications in Florida, which accounts for more than a third of all documented U.S. cases of the B-117 variant, also known as the highly contagious U.K. variant. Researchers are also monitoring for any Florida outbreaks of other variants from Brazil and South Africa that have been found elsewhere in the United States, but not—officially—in the Sunshine State.
DeSantis’ response has been to chastise reporters for allegedly downplaying the coronavirus dangers of social justice protests and celebrations of Biden’s electoral victory over Donald Trump, striking a defiant tone regarding any travel restrictions. At a Thursday press conference, DeSantis said, “We will oppose it 100 percent. It would not be based in science. It would purely be a political attack against the people of Florida.” A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not respond to email requests for comment.
Seniors who spoke to The Daily Beast said DeSantis has been deliberately obtuse in what passes here for containing the pandemic. “The governor of this state is out of control,” said Charnizon. Krinick, the legal secretary, added: “DeSantis? Not a fan. I don’t think he’s doing anything.”
To be sure, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, recently said getting both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to stay ahead of the new mutant variants. And Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, a Florida International University infectious disease professor, told The Daily Beast that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective in preventing people from getting sick—including when it came to the U.K. variant.
Still, given the basic limitations of any vaccine, and the proliferation of variant cases in a state that has stood out for pandemic absurdity, Floridians can’t let up any time soon.
“It is possible people who have gotten their second dose can still catch the virus,” Trepka said. “They can be asymptomatic and become infectious. But we are very concerned about more variants popping up because we may get one that vaccines don’t work on.”
Due to the high degree of community spread in Florida, vaccines alone will not end the pandemic, she argued—even if the shots have amounted to DeSantis’ sole strategy of late.
“Even if you are one of those who have gotten full doses, you are still around a lot of people who have not been vaccinated,” she said. “We need people wearing masks, doing physical distance, and avoiding large crowds. Many people are following it religiously and many are not.”
The fear and anger at the dangers posed even after vaccination are not confined to the senior citizens DeSantis has prioritized above virtually all others. In the labor and delivery department of North Miami’s Northshore Medical Center, health-care workers who have been fully inoculated are still on guard, said one nurse who asked for anonymity because she did not have authorization from the hospital to speak to the media.
“Because of the new variants and people not being safe, I am still wearing a mask when I go out and I am still not going to family functions because I know I can’t trust some family members who are out in the streets and not taking proper precautions,” she said.
The terrifying reality that Florida is a living petri dish for coronavirus mutations means seniors like Carla Golembe will just keep isolating themselves even though she’s gotten both her shots.
“The variants are scary,” the 67-year-old artist from Delray Beach, Florida, told The Daily Beast. “We don’t know much about them. Just when we think we are beginning to understand this virus, now there are more curveballs.”
In two weeks, once her body has built up full immunity, the only major outing she has planned is a trip to her dentist, she said.
“Maybe on a quiet afternoon, I will go into a grocery store, double-masked,” she said. “I hope my husband, who also got both his shots, and I can get together with other friends who have been fully vaccinated. We want to hang out again, but at a distance and outdoors, of course.”