Nearly a year after COVID-19 became a pandemic, hundreds of tourists crowded the coastline in Key West. Signs reading “masks required for entry” decorated the old Florida homes refurbished into restaurants, now at full capacity. Social distancing became a mere afterthought as the sun dipped below the horizon line at Mallory Square, where visitors eagerly awaited the sunset daily. Masks lingered in hands and pockets, instead of on faces, or littered the traditional streets, adding surgical streaks of light blue to the local flora and fauna.
A year ago, the world shut down. Now, tourists celebrate the imaginary ending of the pandemic by disregarding precautions. According to the New York Times as of March 16, Florida no longer required masks and all businesses opened at full capacity. This made still-cautionary spring break goers wonder if anyone still cared about the risk of the pandemic now that nearly 4.4 million Floridians have received the Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“[I felt comfortable traveling because] I’m exposed all the time, as I am a nurse. I’ve been offered [the vaccine] but I have not gotten it,” Lisa Rettele, a tourist visiting the Keys from Kansas City, Kansas, said. “I actually give [vaccines] at work as well as being a labor nurse. From listening to fellow workers and personally giving the vaccination myself, patients just said that they feel like their anxiety is gone and [feel] a sense of being safe just because they have the vaccination.”
Everyone knows it’s been a deadly, mentally exhausting year. In order to get away from the perceived chore of wearing masks nine to five, people chose escapism. Not through binging Netflix or reading a thrilling novel on their couch, but by braving the still infected nation to travel.
“I think it’s a combination. I think people traveling are getting tired of being under quarantine. So I think that’s a factor, then [the vaccines are] also a factor of it. Folks feel more comfortable,” Steve Stallard, a tourist visiting from Orlando said.
With an average of 2 million vaccinations administered per day in the United States, many people may have felt open to travel, prompting this surge of spring breakers in Key West. They are the lucky ones. Lucky to travel, live and experience the world while many throughout the country remain rigid in their work from home lives, unable or currently ineligible to receive the vaccine.
While Floridians and tourists move forward with their lives, with COVID-19 in the rear view, it raised concerns about the last year repeating itself. The uneasy nausea of infection looming over everyday decisions may reappear as more people disregard safety regulations. No one could have prevented the pandemic, but everyone could still make a difference if they cannot receive the vaccine by continuing to wear masks and socially distance, even throughout spring break festivities.
“[Vaccinated Americans] mental status’ have been affected so much that they just are like ‘You know I’m just going to live my life because [COVID-19] isn’t going anywhere.’ Like the flu, [COVID-19 is] still gonna be around,” Rettele said.