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St. Pete 2.0 Results: Adjusting to the new normal after six months of Covid-19 (Part One)

Jaymi Butler

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The New Normal St. Pete 2.0

The St. Petersburg renaissance has been in full swing for more than a decade. We’ve excelled in many areas and struggled in others. In our series St. Pete 2.0, we’re partnering with the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership to explore what lies on the other side of our potential – what will it take to move to the “next level” as a city? Through this series, we’ll dig into specific topics with the hope that you, our thoughtful citizens, will share your insight, experience and wisdom. 

St. Petersburg has been living in the shadow of Covid-19 for six months, and it’s safe to say that the pandemic has impacted all of us. We’ve gained weight due to lack of exercise. We miss our friends and our routine. Our businesses have suffered. We feel more isolated than ever. On the other hand, Covid has given us a chance to step back, to enjoy more time with our families, to work from home in our pajamas and maybe even to tackle a few long-delayed home improvement projects. But no matter how the pandemic has affected us, one thing is clear – St. Pete is resilient and though a lot of us are still mourning the way life used to be, there’s plenty of hope for the future as we adjust to the new normal. 

In this edition of St. Pete 2.0 and as part of the Catalyst series The New Normal: Six Months Under Covid, we wanted to get a sense of what the last six months have been like for local residents. We asked them to rank how Covid has impacted them physically, emotionally, financially and socially. We then invited them to answer a few open-ended questions on silver linings and surprises that have come out of the pandemic, and we closed things out by asking participants to share their biggest Covid-related concerns going forward and their thoughts on how the pandemic will impact St. Pete’s evolution as a city. Here’s part one of what we found:

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest, how much has Covid-19 impacted your level of social connectedness?

According to survey results, our social connections have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, and many said their relationships with their friends and family have changed as a result. Respondents wrote of missing the physical contact of a hug from a friend, the tedium of endless Zoom calls and the sadness of not being able to see family members in long-term care facilities.

“I crave social contact,” said Kitty Rawson. “We used to go out to dinner with friends and find that nearly impossible. We ate at friends’ homes and they at ours. Before it was so hot, that was possible on our porch, but not so much now that the heat is really bearing down on us.”

Willi Rudowsky agreed.

“We only get together virtually, albeit with great regularity,” he wrote. “But it is not the same as spending time with others in person.”

Too much of life is happening online right now, lamented Mark Manning.

“There’s very little in person connection. Even worship is remote,” he said. “The social aspects of life have diminished so completely that our former normal seems like a dream. Long term, this can’t be healthy in a macro sense.”

Some respondents, however, said Zoom and other virtual gatherings have had a positive impact on their relationships. 

“Zoom has replaced much of my former in-person social connections,” one commenter wrote. ”Also, we’ve had some Zoom family gatherings that have actually brought our far-flung extended family together more frequently.”

Participants also shared their frustration about social interactions souring when the topic of Covid comes up.

“Many friends have become freaks about the politics surrounding the virus,” one respondent wrote. “Also there’s a huge divide between in-person school families and eLearning school families. I’m no longer socializing or interacting much with eLearning families due to the vitriol and constant chatter on why eLearning is the better choice.”

Another commenter expressed sadness that the virus – and information surrounding it – has caused friction in her family.

“My mom is too afraid due to mainstream media and she’s 56 and healthy, but she’s afraid I’m going to ‘kill dad’ who is also 57 and healthy,” the commenter wrote. “I won’t be seeing my parents for Christmas (they already cancelled), and they said probably not for the next year or so.”

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest and one being the lowest, how much has Covid-19 impacted your mental, psychological and emotional health?

Falling just below social connections, our mental and emotional health has been dramatically affected by the pandemic. Respondents cited a variety of reasons for feeling down, from specific circumstances such as the loss of a job to more general feelings of despair.

While I feel like I’m functioning OK on a daily basis, I don’t feel particularly filled with joy and do not feel content with this life,” one commenter named Stacy said. “I’m often struggling to keep depression and anxiety at bay. I use biking, walking and connecting with nature to heal and stay balanced.”

Jennifer Davis Dodd wrote of a similar type of hopelessness.

“Our world is so very small and routine these days because we can’t enjoy shopping, eating and drinking in downtown St. Pete. It seems boring and endless,” she said. “We’re grateful for our health (no hospitals!) and that of our immediate family spread up and down the East Coast, but we’ve had three cruises canceled – including a transatlantic – and no vacation this year.”

Another commenter agreed.

“I feel alone and cooped up. I have been working to improve my physical health but my mind feels lonely and very sad. I like to be social and this has made that impossible,” wrote the respondent, who didn’t share a name. “I feel hopeless about the future and like nothing will ever change.”

A number of participants mentioned being concerned about contracting the virus and the impact that it would have on their lives.

“I’m shopping in person only for essential needs and ordering most things from delivery services,” said Daniel Cameron. “My anxiety increases when trying to plan small, socially distanced gatherings.”

Kelly Mullins put things in more black-and-white terms.

“I’m terrified of getting sick again,” she wrote. “I’m scared of losing my job and not being able to find a new one.”

Other respondents said the combination of Covid along with everything else going on in the world is contributing to their feelings of sadness and worry.

“I am aware of a constant low-grade anxiety, due in part to the fraught social and political state of living in the U.S. under President Trump, as well worrying about contracting COVID-19 and feeling isolated in trying to avoid that outcome,” wrote Amy Walsh.

On a happier note, several people shared that while the pandemic has affected their mental health somewhat, they are finding ways to keep a positive outlook.

“I’m lucky to be a ‘steady-on’ kind of person,” wrote Lyn Wilkinson. “Were I not worried about the five-year lease I signed 10 days before the world came to a screeching stop, life would be quite similar to BC (before Covid) with less physical presence and social interaction.”

One commenter going by the name of Jay was even more pragmatic.

“My days feel very repetitive but I’m not sick or dying and I don’t have kids so it’s fine,” he wrote. “I’m lucky.”

Community resources:

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay

Zero Suicide Partners of Pinellas 

Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County

Pinellas County‘s Covid resource page

Coming tomorrow: How Covid has impacted our physical and our financial health

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