“I think we were careless and we went out into a public place when we should not have.”
As restaurants and bars begin reopening for business, nights out with friends are no longer completely off the table. But one group of friends in Florida may be regretting their post-lockdown get-together after all 16 of them tested positive for COVID-19.
“Welp, Florida opened back up [and] my butt should’ve stayed home this past weekend cause I just tested positive for the damn COVID,” Erika Crisp, 40, wrote in a now-unavailable Facebook post last week, per BuzzFeed News. “#IKnowBetter #MyFault #WearYourMasksPeople,” she added.
Crisp, a health care worker from Jacksonville, Florida, told local news station News4Jax that there was no doubt that the entire group became infected with the coronavirus during their night out at Lynch’s Irish Pub on June 6, because apart from that, they had been “doing everything the right way” by staying inside for months and socially distancing carefully.
“The first night we go out, Murphy’s Law, I guess,” she said. “I think we were careless and we went out into a public place when we should not have. I think we had a whole ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality. The state opens back up and said everybody was fine, so we took advantage of that.”
More members of the friend group, including Crisp, spoke to Chris Cuomo on CNN Tuesday, taking the opportunity to remind the public that everybody is still at risk. “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.”
Layton explained that the group of friends got together to celebrate a birthday, in a crowded bar, and nobody was wearing a mask. She admitted that “standing there in front of those people, we knew we were pushing it.”
Within days of socializing together, the friends all started getting sick. Eventually, everyone in the group tested positive. “Receiving the text messages that my friends were just boom, positive, boom, positive, boom, positive, back to back to back, it was overwhelming,” Dara Sweat told Cuomo.
The Irish pub Crisp and her friends went to closed voluntarily last Friday for cleaning after learning another customer had tested positive. Further testing of all employees resulted in seven more positive COVID-19 results. Other bars in the area closed Sunday after some of their customers tested positive, as well. “It literally spread like wildfire,” Lynch’s Irish Pub general manager Keith Doherty told News4Jax. The bar reopened Tuesday morning with stricter safety measures in place—Doherty told the station they will check customer and staff temperatures at the door.
Crisp believes that an asymptomatic person possibly spread COVID-19 at the bar. She also revealed that 20 more people not associated with her friend group have also contacted her to say they too were at the Irish pub that night and have also tested positive for COVID-19. “It’s the common denominator from a bunch of strangers. And no, we did NOT bar hop. It was the ONLY bar my group of people went to [and] it was the only time I saw them,” she wrote on Facebook.
With multiple people testing positive for COVID-19 after being at the bar, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Duval County Department of Health are currently looking into this outbreak. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Duval County Department of Health spokesperson Samantha Epstein said they’re conducting “an extensive epidemiological investigation in conjunction with the CDC to identify individuals who may have had close contact with the virus.” However, Epstein added that there is “no direct correlation between bars reopening and a rise in positive cases. We have not seen any outbreaks at local bars, other than that specific location in Jacksonville Beach.”
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that even as states are reopening and advancing through those reopening phases, COVID-19 hasn’t disappeared. “We may be getting mixed messages from politicians and so-called experts, but the reality is that COVID-19 is not sending us mixed messages,” Carol A. Winner, MPH, founder of the Give Space movement and director of federally funded community health-based initiatives, tells Health. “COVID-19 numbers cannot be disputed; its virulence cannot be questioned.”
Whatever the guidelines in your specific state are currently, it’s still essential to practice social distancing—and wear a face covering when you can’t stay physically distant—when you’re in a very public place. And if you don’t quite feel comfortable catching up with friends in person yet (especially in a public, enclosed space), remember that there are other ways to socialize, like taking a bike ride, going on a hike, or meeting in a park with takeout. “Agree to socialize when you and your friends are all comfortable and agree on how,” says Winner. “If you’ve been true friends since before COVID-19, you’ll still be friends on the other side of the pandemic.”
Fortunately, neither Crisp nor any of her friends have gotten seriously ill from COVID-19. They’re simply speaking out now to warn others to be more cautious as they start venturing out more. “I feel foolish, it’s too soon,” she told Cuomo. She also wants to make sure that her friends, nor the bar they visited, are victims of any negative feedback. “I encourage everyone to be considerate of others,” Crisp wrote on Facebook. “We’re not out to hurt anyone or damage an establishment’s reputation. We have no agenda or motive. These are crap times so be kind.”