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.
Over the last six months, we’ve had plenty of time to reflect on our new normal. There have been a few bright spots here and there, but most of us agree that 2020 is something we’d like to forget. Now, as we enter the final three months of the year, many of us are also starting to think about the future. What will it look like? Can we ever go back to the way things were? And should we?
In our final installment of our St. Pete 2.0 survey story, we asked participants to get out their crystal balls and share what they predict will be the lasting impacts of Covid-19 on the community. Here’s what we learned:
What are your greatest Covid-related concerns going forward?
Many respondents said that although the number of cases in Pinellas County has dropped since the height of the pandemic, they still fear future outbreaks and worry about contracting the virus themselves – or giving it to a loved one.
“I’m terrified of getting sick,” wrote Kelly Mullins. “I am severely immunocompromised and there’s no definitive answer on if cell memory will provide protection from reinfection.”
Wrote another: “Being almost 60 and in good health, I still fear the unknown effects of possibly contracting the virus and/or losing my elderly parents to this deadly Covid-19.”
A number of people mentioned concerns about future health implications from the virus.
“What if this virus reactivates inside our bodies in 10 years?” one commenter wondered. “What impact might these long-term health issues have on the country?”
Concerns over a Covid vaccine were shared repeatedly by respondents. Kitty Rawson, like many others, wrote of her fear that the vaccine won’t be effective or will make people ill. Lyn Wilkinson had similar sentiments.
“I’m concerned that people will eschew the vaccine even when it’s been proven safe and that the vaccine is being rushed and won’t be safe, thereby exacerbating fears (rightly) about taking it,” she said.
The ongoing impact on the economy was another frequently mentioned concern.
“I’m worried about the loss of jobs and business closures,” wrote Haley Busch. “I’m concerned about my fellow millennials – those of us who will be unable to build wealth during this time – and how we will be affected for decades to come.”
Janet E. Fusco has financial fears, too.
“I worry that my company will not weather this economic storm and I’ll have to find a new job,” she said.
Many businesses will go under, Paul Carder predicted, “if Congress and the White House don’t get their act together and provide sufficient aid.”
Then there’s the overarching sense of dread in not knowing when this will all be over.
“I’m worried that this way of living will continue well beyond the next six months and we will be stuck in this place forever,” one commenter wrote.
Chrissy Jackson said she fears that the virus will linger due to Covid fatigue.
“I worry about exposure as people become complacent and do not follow social distancing or mask wearing,” she wrote.
As we enter the sixth month of the pandemic, what does the new normal look like for you?
There weren’t a lot of optimistic responses to this question. Many commenters replied that their new normal involves lots of time at home, limiting or avoiding travel and missing out on activities they used to enjoy.
Wendy Lang wrote that she’s not eating out as often or going to the movies. Another commenter named Joe said. “I don’t go anywhere unless I have to,” while a third person shared that she works from home and orders groceries for pickup.
“I have no interaction with anyone outside my family,” she wrote.
A number of people are having a similar experience and said their new normal involves sticking with familiar places and people.
“I have apprehension being around people I don’t know well for fear they might be careless in their precautions and be carrying the virus,” wrote Helen Simon.
Another commenter agreed.
“I’m staying distant from people, especially those that I know don’t use common sense,” the person shared.
The majority of respondents talked about how their lives have shifted to include precautionary measures associated with limiting the spread of the virus.
“The new normal looks like face masks and hand sanitizer EVERYWHERE,” wrote Danny White.
It also looks like less physical interaction, with elbow bumps replacing handshakes and hugs.
“The main thing that’s changed for me is I’m a hugger,” wrote LeAnne Gerhart. “I have clients ask if they can hug me after we’ve spent just a short time together. It’s been physically painful at times to keep a social distance.”
Another respondent said he expects to be social distancing “forever,” to some degree.
“I’m much more cognizant of the risks,” he wrote.
Jeremy Dobes said he’s still deciphering what the new normal means.
“I think we are halfway there,” he wrote. “A lot will depend on medical advances and understanding of the virus’s impacts even after recovery. The biggest question is if those who recovered have any lasting issues. This is my biggest concern hearing firsthand through friends and family who have been impacted.”
What impact, if any, will the pandemic have on St. Pete’s evolution as a city?
A number of people voiced concerns that Covid will slow tourism and economic development and that it will dramatically affect small businesses.
“This city is all about locally grown businesses,” one commenter wrote. “It’s going to be a battle to keep the lights on for a lot of folks.”
If that happens, some worry that the city will lose its unique flavor.
“I’m afraid it will cause us to go back a few steps or more in terms of independence, funkiness and individuality,” wrote Jennifer Davis Dodd. “I’m afraid the Miami developers will swoop in and grab all the retail spaces as independents are forced to give up after months of no-to-low income and we’ll see chains in every space.”
On a more positive note, several people predicted that because many people are now able to work remotely, the city will see an influx of new residents looking for a change of scenery.
“We may not have big corporate offices (and I hope it stays that way) but we have stellar places to live,” wrote Doug Phares.
Another commenter expects to see more people relocating from the northeast.
“Our better winter weather and lower cost of living relative to the northeast will encourage more people to move,” the respondent wrote. “Property values will stay stable or increase, which will in turn affect the amount of tax revenues and investments into the city.”
Others are hopeful that the pandemic will lead residents to have more conversations – and take more action – on creating a more equitable community.
“The pandemic will certainly slow progress, but will it also give us time to look at structural racism, too?” questioned Kitty Rawson. “Will we be more thoughtful about moving forward?”
Amy Walsh agreed.
“I hope the pandemic, coupled with the ascendant movement for racial justice and equality, improves access to health care for all our residents,” she said. “Universally, in St. Pete and elsewhere, I hope that we will be kinder to each other.”
Summing up the hope that all of us have for the future, one commenter is confident that the city will emerge from the pandemic better than ever.
“Resilience and sense of community are very strong in St. Pete,” the respondent wrote. “The more the community grows together, the stronger the evolution will be. It may slow down a bit temporarily, but it will not stop.”
Pinellas County‘s Covid resource page
To read more of the the Catalyst series The New Normal: Six Months Under Covid, click here.