|

The Villages: They thought they were impregnable

BLAKE FLEETWOOD
Guest Writer
blake@lbknews.com

This past spring — during the the height of hysteria over covid19, The Villages, a sprawling retirement community just northeast of Tampa with a population much like Longboat Key, seemed to be a world apart from the chaos and mayhem besieging the rest of the country.

Record-breaking unemployment, an economic freefall, rising crime rates and exploding health costs were but a distant thunder from the outside. The Black Lives Matter movement, a light sprinkle in The Villages residents’ social news feeds.

It is a Shangri La for the nation’s seniors. The ultimate Florida lifestyle, an “endless vacation” for the affluent and active. All Spring, there was live music and daily dancing, in the three town squares. 55 golf courses. Softball leagues. Movie theatres. No wonder 4,000 new residents move in every year. A warm weather Elysian Fields where you never have to be alone.

The Villages — with 128,000 residents, mostly 55 and older — had it all.

The Villages promotes itself as a modern day Fountain of Youth, preserving youthful vitality with camaraderie and a physically active lifestyle – a prize that eluded conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. Ironically, it was built centuries later by prescient developers in the 1970’s who sought to capitalize on the needs and desires of the active retirees, who are living 20 years longer than the previous generation.

The Villages poverty level is a clear indication just how different these 32 square miles are to the rest of the state: 4.6 percent versus the statewide 13.6 percent.

Until mid-June, residents were blessed. They seemed to have avoided the worst of the pandemic with an infection rate less than one tenth of a percent.

Nobody much worried about the pandemic which was exploding all around them in Florida’s cities and up the East Coast.The Villages was a virtual fortress.

On May 3, a local paper bragged in a lead article: “How Quick Action Here Kept Coronavirus at Bay.”

The Villages is a conservative stronghold which regularly delivers its votes to the Republican party, Governor Ron Desantis, and President Donald Trump. Last spring, DeSantis praised The Villages saying, “This community has really responded and done a lot to protect themselves.”

Most residents in The Villages get their news from Fox with updates piped into the squares by the DJ before the daily line dancing starts.

In 2018, The Villages were a powerful force in DeSantis’s gubernatorial election. He garnered a 100,000 vote winning margin in The Villages, sealing his victory a tight statewide election that he won by only 34,000.

On April 20th, Donald Trump sent a tweet to his 78.3 million followers:  “Congratulations to all my many friends at The Villages in Florida on having done so well, and with such great spirit.”

But in early July, it all came crashing down.

Everything that defined the nature of life in The Villages — the line dancing in the square, tennis, parties, pools, estate sales, was precisely what was putting its residents in grave danger.

As social distancing and business shutdowns occurred almost overnight in other parts of the country, the elderly, fun-loving Villagers kept the party going.

They were not alone in rejecting such measures: millennials flocked to Miami’s beaches and bars for Spring Break at the same time.

But the seniors’ Spring Break fun was significantly more risky. According to a recent federal report, the fatality rate among those aged 65 to 84 is up to 11 percent. For people younger than 54, it is below 1 percent.

The Village’s infection rate from Covid-19 jumped from one tenth of one percent to 9 percent.

Last week, overall cases rose to 7,936 in the tri-county area, where The Villages are located – an increase of 300 from Thursday to Friday. There have been 105 deaths and 623 people hospitalized.

Based on the infection rate of past pandemics, like the swine flu pandemic of 2009, Harvard University epidemiologists conservatively estimate that 20 percent of the population will be infected over the next 18 months.

The Villages continue to ignore this dark reality, even changing mask policy from “required” to “recommended”, dumbfounding many residents according to the Village-News.com.

“You just can’t fix stupid,” says Jim Smith of the Village of Silver Lake, “Florida continues to appear on the map of fourteen states where the number of cases continues to rise! Just incomprehensible.”

Meanwhile, the afternoon happy hours kept on going.

One letter to the editor from Robert Barnes complained that it “was a shame to close Katie Belle’s, probably the most popular combination of dinner and dancing restaurant in The Villages that so many couples enjoy periodically.”

The local newspaper printed photos of a makeshift dance floor with residents jammed together tightly without masks at the Margarita Republic, the day after DeSantis approved an order allowing gyms and fitness centers to reopen and restaurants to expand their capacity to 50 percent.

On June 10, tennis, pickleball and the local softball league started up again after a 12-week layoff. Only in The Villages do you see a 70-year-old man putting on his cleats.

Clearly, this isn’t a community you can keep locked down.

But things got much worse in the next two months with the death total rising to 105 with 623 people requiring hospital care.

Overall the tri-county area, where The Villages are located, reported 7,936 cases last week, an increase of 350 overnight. The New York Times attributed the rise in cases to young people who were not taking preventive measures like wearing masks, quoting Dr. Madiha Syed, an infectious disease specialist from the University of Florida Health.

“You see, they don’t wear their masks, what do you do?”

Becky Carr, 28, who is staying with her snowbird parents in The Villages, said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, she sees many people being careful.

“The rest of the country kind of looks at the Villages like, ‘If they don’t do something now, they’re all going to die,’ ” she said. “The Villagers themselves are kind of like, ‘Hey we are okay. We are going to make it.’ ”

Phyllis Walters, 71, said she was stunned to see packs of neighbors milling around watching the sun set in Sumter Landing, one of the squares.

“It just didn’t seem like anybody really cared,” she said. “I think it is insane.”

When told that crowds were gathering, music was playing and line dancing was going on in one of the squares, The Villages’ District Manager Richard Baier told Tampa Bay Times reporters  “it wasn’t his job to turn the music off.”

Tags: , ,

Longboat Key News

7 Responses for “The Villages: They thought they were impregnable”

  1. Blake Fleetwood says:

    COVID-19 has claimed 13 more local residents as the virus appears to be ramping back up in the tri-county area.

    Three of the latest fatalities were from Sumter County, five lived in Lake County and other five were Marion County residents. They were described Thursday by the Florida Department of Health as:

    88-year-old Sumter County woman who tested positive July 12;
    76-year-old Sumter County woman who tested positive July 26;
    75-year-old Sumter County man who tested positive Aug. 12;
    78-year-old Lake County man who tested positive July 22;
    88-year-old Lake County woman who tested positive July 27;
    78-year-old Lake County man who tested positive Aug. 16;
    96-year-old Lake County woman who tested Aug. 21;
    76-year-old Lake County woman who tested positive Sept. 1;
    80-year-old Marion County man who tested positive July 12;
    92-year-old Marion County woman who tested positive July 21;
    91-year-old Marion County woman who tested positive Aug. 6;
    70-year-old Marion County man who tested positive Sept. 4; and
    80-year-old Marion County man who tested positive Sept. 6.

    From Villeges-news.com

  2. Blake Fleetwood says:

    All the statistics are from the Florida Department of Public Health. Deaths don’t lie.

  3. Gina Johnson says:

    Your count is wrong. There were no cases reported Monday in The Villages and one was removed from the Lake County count, meaning the mega-retirement community is now reporting 455 cases. Of those, 428 are in Sumter County, 24 are in Lake County and three are in the Marion County.

    Lies, lies, lies

  4. John Schlotter says:

    Your article is the definition of political propaganda. Which means it is meaningless garbage. Lets look at where you have misused the data to try and paint The Villages as the root of all evil for COVID-19. You state “Last week, overall cases rose to 7,936 in the tri-county area, where The Villages are located – an increase of 300 from Thursday to Friday.” What you do not mention is that 240 of the 300 cases were in Ocala. Yes, I have been paying attention to the numbers in the Press.
    And No, The Villages is not part of Ocala. As of 9 Aug., Marion County has 6,511 cases of which Ocala has 5,165. The Villages in Marion county has less that 5. Lake County has 5161 cases of which Clermont has 1350 followed by Tavares (612), Eustis (434), Groveland (368) and Mount Dora (346). The Villages in Lake County has less than 100. Now lets look at Sumter County where the largest community is The Villages proper. Sumter has 1303 cases of which The Villages has about 400. I say ‘about’ because villages-news.com is no longer breaking down the count between the 3 counties. Last count for The Villages proper is 456 which includes parts of Marion and Lake.

    So why are you pointing the finger at The Villages and not Ocala and Clermont? Could it be that there is no political reward for pointing out that Ocala (pop. 61000) counts towards 79% of Marion counties cases? Whereas The Villages counts towards 6% of the cases between Marion, Lake and Sumter counties. So where is the article about the skyrocketing cases in Ocala? Ocala also accounts for 40% of the tri-county total. A far cry larger than The Villages.

    My numbers come from villages-news.com, an independent news organization that often criticizes The Villages.

    True news is where a news organization reports JUST THE NEWS and lets the people decide. True news doesn’t skew the numbers to make their political party look better than the other. Where is the true news in this country? It sure doesn’t exist at Longboat Key News. Nor does it exist at Fox News, CNN, MSNBC or any other network news organization. This country is starving for real news. But all we get is propaganda.

  5. The article clearly is biased. The tri county area includes Ocala which has had the fastest rate of spread hand is 30 miles north of The Villages and Sumter which has a federal prison and a state prison.

  6. Margy Linn-Berg says:

    Only one error in article. The statistics quoted is for Sumter County which The Villages
    Is a portion. In the Villages, actual cases are only
    430 with a death count of 24. Still
    A very negligible percent of over 120,000

    The large number of cases on the Tri County area are two large prisons and Ocala and some nursing homes not in the Villages.

  7. I suspect the people in The Villages consider themselves IMMORTAL!!

    I have visited and its a great place to be happy BUT from your article it seems that they have left their brains in the toilet!!

    In UK the COVID spikes are centred on the ethnic cultural desire to be with all their family and friends. KNOW WHAT people are dying and those that survive are in Hospitals or caring for their elderly family members.

    Elsewhere in UK the spikes are being caused to a large extent by social gatherings of youngish people i.e those up to 35.

    I am 79 have had a good life BUT I do not want it to end because of Old age stupidity-my grandchildren would never forgive me.

    TAKE CARE YOU CARFREE Villagers-YOU ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT IF YOU BEHAVE LIKE THIS and remember you can infect your younger family members.

    STAY SAFE!!

Leave a Reply