With chairs socially distanced at tables, breakfast guests masked up, and servers dishing up food at the breakfast buffet — the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce resumed in-person business breakfast meetings in September.
State Sen. Danny Burgess, a Republican from Zephyrhills, was the featured speaker.
“It’s good to be here,” Burgess told the crowd. “Obviously, this is your first time back in a long time.”
It’s no secret that the impacts of COVID-19 have rippled throughout society, and Burgess addressed them head-on.
“We all have felt that separation, that isolation,” Burgess said.
“I think we’ve all realized just how significant the second- and third-order effects of COVID-19 can be, not just from the physical virus itself and its manifestations, but what it’s like to not be able to interact,” he said.
“It’s in our nature to want to get out and interact and socialize.
“So I think this has taken a huge toll on us,” the state lawmaker added.
The pandemic affects everyone, he said, “whether you’re a parent, or whether you’re taking care of your parents, as they get older.”
For employers, the question is: How do I keep my employees safe?
“We’re kind of in a strange time where some people are policing other people. We’re policing each other: ‘Oh, that guy just sneezed.’
“These are weird times. I think it’s just good to take a step back and kind of have a breath of humility, and understand that we’re all, literally in this, together. We’re all trying to figure this out the best way possible.
“Think of some of the most contentious things that are out there, right now.
“Masks in schools.
“That’s probably about as controversial as it gets right now. That’s got to be No. 1 on the list.
“I’m not here to talk about my position on it.
“I’m just saying, no matter where you fall on that issue, I firmly believe, at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to navigate this the best way possible.
“And, if you believe that masks are detrimental to students in school, I think that’s coming from a pure place.
“If you think that masks should be in school, I think that’s coming from a pure place.
“We can have those disagreements.
“Again, there is no playbook for this.
“So, at the end of the day, we have to get back to that humanity. We all know that we’re trying to find the right answer. We’re all trying to get through this together, we just may have different ways of doing it,” Burgess said.
He said he’s glad that groups like the North Tampa Bay Chamber are taking precautions and meeting in person again.
“It’s good to be back out in public because these are the kinds of messages that I don’t think we get enough of — it’s the kind of messaging that I want to put out there.
“I don’t know what one state senator can do, you know, but I think if we all started to speak a little bit more in that tone and a little less of the rhetoric you see on whatever your preferred television station is, you know, maybe we could really start to come together and find some of these mutual solutions, to just getting over the hump here.”
“This is likely an endemic virus. We get the flu shot every year. It didn’t eradicate the flu. It just helps us to deal with the flu.
“I think more and more, as time goes on, thank God for the vaccine,” Burgess said.
“I think the reality is, it helps keep us healthy and safe,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, this could be something that we live with for the rest of our lives,” Burgess said.
So, in addition to being grateful for vaccinations, he’s also grateful for monoclonal antibodies that can help people who have become infected to avoid serious illness and hospitalization.
And, he expressed gratitude for those working in the trenches, in the battle against COVID-19.
“Thank God for our health care workers and everybody that’s on the front lines, doing so much every day. They didn’t have yesterday (Labor Day) off,” he said.
Navigating the pandemic requires flexibility
“I think we’ve come to that realization that this is a new normal, and that we can live with this. “We just have to do the right things and take the right steps.
“We’ve got to balance the safety and the need to make a living.”
One way the Florida Legislature has stepped in to support that was through legislation involving COVID liability.
“In order for you all to get your business doors back open, you needed to know that you didn’t have to be looking over your shoulder, every single day, and wondering when that litigation might start,” Burgess said.
He said Florida’s approach to reopening received rave reviews from people around the country that he and his family met, while vacationing over the summer at national parks.
Burgess said they told him they wished they lived in Florida.
He attributed their attitude to the way Florida has responded to the pandemic.
“We are open for business,” Burgess said. “In a lot of ways, we’ve trusted Floridians to make the right decisions.”
Florida also has led the way in making monoclonal antibodies available, Burgess said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has done something that no other state has done, by creating mobile labs, where people can get the treatments.
“It’s something that we need to make readily available to the public,” he said, but like many issues, it has become hyper-political.
“They’re actually wonderful. Nobody is promoting them as an alternative to vaccination. That’s the spin. The monoclonal antibodies are almost like miracle treatments. We’re promoting tools in the toolbelt and we want people to have access to a lot of things,” Burgess said.
He also addressed some big issues that will be addressed in the 2022 legislative session, including redistricting, which he described as a once-in-a-decade process.
“I got the opportunity to chair the legislative portion of that for the Senate and House maps.
“We will have a constitutional map. No question about it. We’re going to do this above-board and absolutely right,” Burgess said.
“As you can imagine, it’s going to be very controversial, no matter what we do,” he said.
But he pledged: “We are going to follow the letter of the law in doing so.
“If there is spin out there, just trust me, we’re going to do this right,” Burgess said.
Published September 15, 2021