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As Florida relaxes COVID restrictions, many still choose to stay at home

Some in the Tampa Bay area still feel wary about going out in public and are acting as if the stay-at-home order is still in place.

When Raymond and Susan Mazola stepped out of their house for the first time in a month, they were clad in medical-grade masks, got their groceries and then hurried back home.

Neither wanted to get sick again like they had been in March. They dropped weight, ran fevers of about 103 and felt like they couldn’t breathe. But it took weeks to get a coronavirus test — by the time they were able to get a drive through test on April 21, it came back as negative for both of them.

Both have a compromised immune system. So while they waited to get better, the two holed up inside their home outside of Spring Hill. Neighbors got them groceries. They brought in the mail once a week and sprayed everything down with Lysol. They left the house once, for a doctor’s appointment.

For now, they’re still watching and waiting, fearful of a repeat of what they suffered through in March.

“We are definitely concerned about getting sick again, because it was awful,” said Raymond Mazola, 67. “We’re waiting to see what happens with the lab rats.”

Even as more of Florida reopens, and as viral clips of people packed onto beaches and in restaurants circulate, a number of people are still choosing to act as if the stay-at-home order remains in place, concerned about a potential second spike or the lack of treatment for coronavirus.

Video displays read "Keep Florida Safe. Stay Home. Save Lives" on screens throughout the airport including this one on the escalator leading down to the baggage claim at Tampa International Airport on Thursday, May 7, 2020 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

A recent CBS News poll found nearly two in three Americans surveyed are prioritizing staying home to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Still, it can lead to butting heads.

Ashley Hackl, 33, has been staying at home with her husband and her daughter, worried that if she goes out there’s too much risk to her ongoing pregnancy.

Hackl said her mother called her a ‘killjoy’ when she said she didn’t want to have a baby shower because it was too risky, and she didn’t want to put other people at risk. She’s told another family member to stop sending conspiracy theory videos and articles, because she won’t be swayed.

Having philosophical differences is hard, especially when her family in different parts of the state and Arizona want to plan a visit to see her daughter and the new baby.

“It’s been really difficult because I don’t want to seem judgmental,” Hackl said. “On the same token, I know they’re not following what I consider to be best practices right now by the CDC, so I’ve had to say no.”

Both Hackl and her husband are news junkies, closely watching the numbers of cases and deaths and listening to what the scientists are saying, she said. But between the developing science, plodding research for a vaccine and her soon-to-arrive newborn, she assumes she’ll be at home through the end of the year.

Hackl said she’s lucky — grateful that both she and her husband have jobs, as well as a home with a backyard and pool where their daughter can play.

“If at the end of this I was just hand-wringing over nothing, then that's fine,” she said. “I know it’s really hard, but I think now is the time for people to think about the greater collective.”

For Christopher Johnson, the attraction of businesses that are now open is offset by the uncertainty around a possible coronavirus spike. What he misses most are museums and concerts — busy spaces that he thinks won’t be back for a while.

Most of all, the 65-year-old Zephyrhills resident said he misses going to church and fellowship. But he’s spoken with church elders about how he feels it’s too soon to bring people back. If they did, the service would likely include no singing, hugging or sitting near each other, which wouldn’t resemble the service he’s come to know and enjoy, anyhow.

“I do miss that experience but I would like to be safe in doing it,” Johnson said. “My church has a lot of older people, including myself, who are more vulnerable if they get sick.”

Though many who are staying in are worried about their personal health, they also worry about the community. Jamie Chua, 29, is healthy and at relatively low-risk compared to older, immunocompromised people. She said it’s one thing to worry about herself, but she feels it’d be even worse if she were to accidentally sicken someone else.

“I feel like the Tampa Bay area in general is really good about taking care of each other,” Chua, a St. Petersburg resident, said. “We care about local businesses, taking care of our neighbors and kind of helping each other out. I kind of want to do my part as a citizen of St. Pete.”

Chua said seeing other people not wearing masks or respecting social distancing makes her nervous. She worries that other friends, who are young and healthy, feel invincible.

Though Chua said she’s gotten a little stir crazy, she’s tried to find creative ways to connect with friends. She’s done virtual spa days, painting nights and escape rooms, where she and her friends will do activities from home but get together over video chat.

Thinking of the bigger picture and her purpose in it helps Chua push though. As a part-time fashion designer, she has been using her sewing machine to make more than 260 masks for donation.

“Every human being has the right to be safe,” Chua said. “COVID has been impacting every person, every age, every ethnicity. Anything I can do to help and do my own little part for our own society, for sure. Let’s all be cautious of each other and remember that it’s still there.”

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