By Fiona McKenna '23
Road-trip stats: almost 2,200 miles, 11 baby crocodile sightings, seven gas-station stops, six nights in hotels away from Pennsylvania; and so many more people than I could count who WEREN’T. WEARING. MASKS.
The first week of August, I traveled to Florida; which at that time — as well as now—was the COVID-19 hotspot of the world. As we drove south from New Hope, where everyone I know has been wearing a mask for months, I started looking into what other states are doing to help contain the spread of the virus. Our route took us through Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia on our way to Brevard County, Florida. A quick Google search told me the details of the legislation each state had (or had not) enacted to protect its citizens and travelers from becoming the next victims of the global pandemic. We stopped at multiple rest stops on our way there and back and I began to observe who 6was wearing masks. The states closest to home, Delaware and Maryland, have had strict mask rules in place for many months and almost everyone in the gas stations and rest stops along Interstate 95 had a mask on just like people do in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
However, the further south we went, the fewer masks I saw. As we moved through Virginia and North Carolina, I noticed increasing numbers of people who were not wearing masks at all and many people who wore their masks incorrectly, covering only their mouths and not their noses, even though those two states have requirements for people in public to be fully masked. By the time we hit a rest stop just beyond the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, the majority of people were not wearing a mask in the rest stop’s convenience store, neither the customers nor the employees. South Carolina’s government has “recommended” masks, but law officers have no power to enforce those recommendations. In Georgia, among the people we came across in public, it would be hard to tell that there is a global health emergency at all. No one wore masks in Georgia; no one made any effort to social distance. In contrast to the leadership in states like Pennsylvania and Maryland, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has actively prevented Georgia’s local governments from enacting community mask ordinances. Our final destination was Satellite Beach, Florida, for the AAU National Championship Track meet. Like his colleague in Georgia, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide mask requirement, however, he has allowed individual communities to establish mask requirements. Prompted by concerns surrounding the attendees for the AAU events and the inaction at the statewide level, the Satellite Beach city council enacted an emergency ordinance at the end of July requiring masks to be worn at all public locations, inside and out, where social distancing was not possible. At the track meet at Satellite Beach High School, a number of local police officers roamed the grounds, reminding anyone without a mask that they could be subject to a fine and removal from the premises. Athletes and spectators had to have their temperatures checked and were given wristbands allowing their entrance to the facility. Anyone with an elevated temperature had to go to a COVID-19 screening station nearby for more extensive testing. The athletes wore masks up until they stepped into the blocks to start their races and some of the throwers kept their masks on throughout the entire competition. The high level of precaution at the meet seems to have been effective. I’ve been home about a week, and seem to be healthy.
I checked with the AAU and of course, they would not release anyone’s health information, but they said that they had not been informed of anyone getting sick during the meet and informally, among athletes I know from other states, I have not heard of anyone who developed symptoms after going to Florida. So what are my takeaways from my time away? Based on my totally unscientific and totally anecdotal experience analyzing the effect of government leadership in fighting COVID-19, I can only say that the communities that I spent time in that were the most protected from the outbreak of illness were the ones that had the strictest government action to force people to wear masks and social distance. It is proven that masks work in protecting people from illness. I fear for the citizens of the South, especially those in Florida and Georgia, where their governors are failing to put regulations in place that could help limit the viral spread and likely save lives.