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Tampa Bay Times
SUN CITY CENTER, Fla. (AP) — Wayne Rediger, 74, is sweeping the court ahead of this afternoon’s shuffleboard tournament.
It’s still early in Sun City Center, a census-designated place in Hillsborough County where more than 70% of the population is over the age of 65.
Rediger’s wife was supposed to be in Nebraska today, visiting her mother. But amid rising coronavirus cases, her mom’s nursing home had closed to visitors the night before.
She canceled her plans less than 24 hours before takeoff.
“It’s an inconvenience, there’s no doubt about it,” Rediger said. “But I don’t see this letting up anytime soon, either.”
The people of Sun City Center are no strangers to the unexpected. With roughly 22,000 senior residents, the retirement community has been nicknamed Tampa Bay’s version of The Villages.
By now, they know that change is part of life.
But most — 93% — of the residents in its ZIP code were partially vaccinated by June of last year, making the senior community a case study in the fatigue felt by older Floridians who followed public health guidance as it came and are nevertheless entering yet another wave of the pandemic.
“It’s been going on for too long,” said Rabbi Carla Freedman, 77, who speaks to community members weekly in her role as a spiritual leader. “The possibility that we will have to isolate again — I think that’s remote, but it’s always there — is really troubling people right now.”
Omicron isn’t like previous variants. Though significantly more contagious, it appears to cause milder infection, impacting the nose and throat rather than attacking the lungs.
Vaccinated and boosted people can still get infected, but remain largely protected from severe illness — about 80% of those currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida are not fully vaccinated.
But older adults who are medically fragile remain the most vulnerable, and an influx of hospitalizations creates fewer beds for people needing treatment for other conditions, creating another risk factor that may disproportionately impact seniors.
Most people mask up at an outdoor memorial service, held a few hundred feet from where Rediger sweeps.
It was the first time Freedman has sat next to a stranger since the temple shut down in March 2020.
“But we were wearing masks, we were outside and I’m boostered, so it’s like, ‘OK! It’s in Your hands,’ “ she said.
Over at the woodshop, Marty Barrett is over it.
The 78-year-old won’t don a mask when he goes to the movies or grocery store. He would have worn one at the memorial if he’d known the family had requested it, however.
“I’ve treated it as much like it didn’t exist as I can,” he said.
Some retirees seem resigned that they may contract the virus at some point.
“Eventually, they say, we’ll all be exposed to it,” said Rediger, who continues to wear a mask indoors. “I do know people that have it now. It’s going to happen. Hopefully, it won’t be bad for us.”
Sam Sudman, 83, echoed that sentiment at lunch with his wife, Joanne Sudman, 75, and Freedman.
“For me, the current wave is not as serious,” said Sudman, whose career was in public health prior to retirement. “People will come down with it, but they may not even know. They take their Tylenol and wait five days. They feel better.”
Few could imagine shuttering their lives as they did before vaccines were widely available, or when the delta variant surged last summer.
Many Sun City residents said they’ll mask up inside public spaces. But they’ll keep seeing the core people they trust — most listed about six people — indoors, often without face coverings.
For others, it’s not so easy.
“I just got off the phone with a member of our congregation who is in a skilled nursing facility,” Freedman said. “I’m going out to visit people today, and she said, ‘Don’t come here. We’ve got COVID all over the place.’ “
“Every time that happens now, it’s very hard on people,” she added.
Changing state and federal recommendations are dizzying for Elaine Chicoine.
“I’m not swayed by political thought, because it is a football,” said the 77-year-old, who worked in the health care field for decades. “And that’s not very helpful to anyone. I’ve seen too many friends become polarized with other friends, who are now no longer their friends.”
She and her husband have followed their own “personal guidelines” from the start — they don’t go to restaurants and they mask up even with neighbors and friends — and won’t deviate now that omicron is here.
“How it happens to go is not within our control,” Chicoine said. “We have to be flexible enough to deal with it.”