THE VILLAGES, Fla. — For months, many of the residents at one of America’s biggest retirement communities went about their lives as if the coronavirus barely existed. They played bridge. They held dances. They went to house parties in souped-up golf carts that looked like miniature Jaguars and Rolls-Royces.
And for months they appeared to have avoided the worst of the pandemic. From March through mid-June, there were fewer than 100 cases in the Villages, a sprawling community in Central Florida where about 120,000 people mostly 55 and older live.
But now as cases spike across Florida, the virus appears to have caught up with the residents of the Villages.
Since the beginning of July, hospital admissions of residents from the Villages have quadrupled at University of Florida Health The Villages, the hospital’s critical care doctors said. As of last week, the hospital admitted 29 Villages residents, all of them with the virus, said Dr. Anil Gogineni, a pulmonologist and critical care doctor there. That was up from the single digits three weeks before.
In Sumter County, the biggest of three counties where most of the Villages is concentrated, the number of cases ballooned from 68 in the first week of June to more than 270 last week, according to the county’s health department.
The Villages is a sprawling palm-tree-lined complex so big it has three ZIP codes, 12 golf courses and multiple libraries and movie theaters, drawing affluent retirees from all over the country.
Now many residents are confronting their new reality. “It’s seeping in, no matter what,” Rob Hannon, 64, said as he sipped a beer, adding that “friends that would come down for years are saying, ‘We’re not going to go.’”
The golf course is still crowded, he said, as well as the hair salon where his wife, Michelle, 53, works. “The women are still coming in but they’re a little more anxious,” Mr. Hannon said. “You can’t stop living. But you can stop being cavalier.”
In an email to residents last week, Jeffrey Lowenkron, the chief medical officer of the Villages, said cases were increasing and urged them to take “proactive steps to reduce the risk of disease transmission.”
“They should consider postponing participation in social events with more than 10 people, particularly those events held indoors,” he wrote. “The upward trend is accelerating.”
That the Villages had initially seemed to escape the worst of the virus had been a point of pride for Gov. Ron DeSantis. The governor, a Republican who has strong support from the community, brushed off concerns about the risks during a visit in April. “There were articles written saying, ‘Oh, the Villages is going to crash and burn,’” he said. “They have like a 2 percent or 2.5 percent infection rate.”
But when he returned early in July, the infection rate had jumped to 9 percent.
More than a third of the cases in the state, one of the worst hit in the nation, have been among people age 15…