Image via screengrab Florida bar outing leads to coronavirus outbreak among friends
Image via screengrab

Erika Crisp, a healthcare worker, said that the group felt OK going out because the local mayor and Gov. Ron DeSantis both said “it’s fine” to go out.

In a stark reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is very much still ravaging the United States, a group of 16 friends all tested positive for COVID-19 after going out to a recently reopened Florida bar.

Members of the group are now speaking out to warn against people making the same mistake they did. Three members of the group appeared on CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday, to remind the public that the coronavirus is not over.

“We want to raise awareness and get ahead of it,” Kat Layton told Cuomo. “We want to tell people it’s really not ready for what we thought it was ready for, it’s too soon.”

The group had gotten together for a friend’s birthday in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, they said. But the bar, Lynch’s Irish Pub, was crowded and no one was wearing masks. “Standing there in front of those people, we knew we were pushing it,” Layton said.

Another member of the group, Erika Crisp said that she felt “foolish” after she got sick, and admitted it was a mistake to go out. “I think at the time, it was more out of sight, out of mind. We hadn’t known anybody who’d had it personally.”

Within days, all 16 friends tested positive for COVID-19. Most of the group experienced mild symptoms and none fell seriously ill, though a few did suffer flu-like symptoms. “Receiving the text messages that my friends were just boom, positive, boom, positive, boom, positive, back to back to back, it was almost a little overwhelming,” Dara Sweat said.

Crisp said that since she came forward with her story, she had received messages from complete strangers on the Internet telling her they’d gotten sick after visiting Lynch’s the same weekend. Cuomo reported at least seven workers at the bar also tested positive.

Crisp, a healthcare worker, said that the group felt OK going out because the local mayor and Gov. Ron DeSantis both said “it’s fine” to go out. 

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida have spiked in recent days, DeSantis, a Republican, has come under intense scrutiny for his rush to reopen the state and lift restrictions. On Tuesday, Florida reported 2,783 new coronavirus cases, the most recorded on any single day since the pandemic began. While an increase in testing may be partially responsible for the rising case numbers, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 has also dramatically increased over the past week.

DeSantis has continued to defend his decision to reopen the state and has insisted Florida will not return to lockdown or roll back its reopening.

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“We’re not rolling back,” the governor said during a press conference Tuesday. “The negative effects of that would far exceed any gains you’re getting. You have to have society function.”

In response to Tuesday’s spike in cases, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, issued a scathing statement slamming the governor’s handling of the crisis.

“Today’s record-high new cases makes it clear: Governor DeSantis has lost control of Florida’s COVID-19 response,” Fried said. “His policies are simply not working, and he’s recklessly reopening Florida despite the data screaming for caution. Refusing to acknowledge the alarming patterns in cases, hospitalizations, and positivity is not only arrogant, but will cost lives, public health and our economy.”

Fried urged residents to wear masks and practice social distancing and to strongly reconsider going out to businesses and public spaces, just because they’re open. 

Erika Crisp did the same. “We should be wearing masks. We should be social distancing,” she told News 4 Jax. “It was too soon to open everything back up.