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Dublin: 20 °C Thursday 6 August, 2020
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'All the bars were packed': Irish people describe life in US states where the virus is surging

Cases of the disease have been stable in Ireland – but there have been alarming increases in parts of the US.

Trump supporters gather at a lake in Tennessee, where cases have risen to over 50,000
Trump supporters gather at a lake in Tennessee, where cases have risen to over 50,000
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

CASES OF COVID-19 have surged across the US in recent days, with case numbers reaching over 56,000 in a single day.

States like New York were hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic, but have gradually been able to reduce the number of cases, while states like Arizona and Florida are experiencing a surge now.

Irish people living in the US spoke to TheJournal.ie about their experiences, and how they’ve dealt with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their families and daily lives.

Florida

Ellie Lorenzo is originally from Newbridge, Kildare and moved to the US eight years ago. She met her husband and decided to settle in Miami, Florida. 

When Covid-19 first began to spread rapidly across the US, Lorenzo had just returned from a visit to Ireland for her brother’s wedding. She was eight months pregnant at the time, and doctors urged her to exercise caution. 

In Florida, restrictions were slowly implemented over the course of a week, with bars and clubs first closing on 17 March. Three days later, on 20 March, all restaurants were forced to switch to delivery or take-away only.

One week on from the closing of the bars, on 24 March the first stay-at-home orders are implemented in Miami-Dade county, where Lorenzo lives. Statewide stay-at-home orders were later issued on 1 April.

Lorenzo and her husband became incredibly cautious – not leaving the house except for the occasional medical checkup. They got shopping delivered, and would make sure to clean everything before they put it away.

Her son, Séan, was born on 24 April at the height of the lockdown.

With a total of over 30,000 cases, the state began its reopening on 4 May. Bars and other close contact businesses reopened on 5 June, but they were prohibited to sell alcohol until the end of last month.  

On 22 June, Florida had just hit 100,000 confirmed cases, with 3,173 deaths. Less than two weeks later on 5 July, they doubled their total cases to 200,111. An additional 558 deaths had been recorded. 

“Once restrictions started to be lifted I think people assumed that it was all over and Miami just kind of went back to normal,” said Lorenzo.

People are out and about, beach days, boat days. The works.

According to Ellie, restaurants are open again and busy and she isn’t seeing people social distance properly. While shops are trying their best, people just aren’t getting it.

“I went to Target for the first time since March last week. It’s marked for one way, six-feet apart but people are just doing their own thing,” said Lorenzo.

“I was looking at cards and three other people came up right next to me.”

While others might have considered returning to Ireland, it was never a consideration for Lorenzo and her husband. 

“My husband runs his family’s business so it’s just not an option for us,” said Lorenzo, adding that it was unlikely she would fly with the baby until a vaccine becomes available.

Lorenzo said she can’t see things getting better over in Florida just yet. Currently, she’s concerned about the upcoming hurricane season and has slowly been stocking up on essentials for her family.

While hurricane season begins on 1 June and lasts until 30 November, the storms don’t typically peak until August and September. 

Arizona

Jason Ryan is originally from Clare and lived in Newmarket-on-Fergus, just a 10-minute drive from Shannon Airport, until he left for Arizona 15 years ago. 

Settling in the town of Gilbert, on the outskirts of Pheonix, Ryan – like the rest of the planet – never anticipated an event of the magnitude of the coronavirus. Like many of us, the closest comparison he could suggest was foot-and-mouth in Ireland in 2001, and the travel restrictions that came along with it. 

He remembers the first time he ever heard Covid-19 mentioned in relation to Ireland. It was a report in a Clare newspaper – a case had sprung up within a family who visited Italy on their holidays.

At the time, he wasn’t sure about the magnitude of it all but continued to follow the news of what was happening at home. He watched as Ireland managed to flatten the curve and reduce cases, while cases in his state remained stable.

“We were watching the Irish news and we were watching different countries like New Zealand, just keeping an eye on it,” said Ryan. 

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He saw how restrictions differed between Ireland and the US when it came to travelling within his state.

“Like the two-kilometre rule, that was never in place here.”

As cases surged in states like New York, the level of the virus remained much lower and relatively stable in Arizona in the early months of the global pandemic. 

However, massive increases in cases in recent weeks have seen Arizona cases climb. It’s since become one of the worst affected states in the US. As of Friday, there have been over 110,000 cases and over 2,000 deaths.

Ryan compares how the US and Ireland have responded to the pandemic. Pubs and bars in Arizona were shut immediately on 17 March. However within two months they were back open again, with scenes of crowded bars and clubs making headlines in US papers. 

When our case numbers were rising they opened the pubs which is ridiculous. All the bars were packed, no social distancing, no masks and our numbers skyrocketed.

Now the state is back in a state of closure, with Governor Doug Ducey ordering a 30-day shutdown on amenities like bars, cinemas and gyms.

While Ryan hasn’t seen a lot of compliance with social distancing measures, he says he and his family have followed public health advice and begun to wear masks while out in public. He’s restricted his family’s movement, with very little travel anywhere.

The usual 4 July celebrations didn’t take place, with no big firework shows in his area. People still gathered for barbeques and block parties, albeit more discreetly.

When he compares the two countries’ responses to Covid-19, Ryan says that he has seriously considered returning home with his wife and five kids.

While it’s unlikely that he will return while the pandemic is still ongoing, it’s a conversation that he has begun within his family. 

“If it [the virus] does come around again, we don’t want to be here. We’d rather be someplace else that can manage it.” 

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