Column: Quarantined in Winter Haven, Florida

Lily Grace Duce
Oxford Stories

Before March 7, I was living the life every young 19-year-old wants to live. I was living the SEC college lifestyle to the fullest in the best possible place.

Just days before I left for spring break, I was soaking in beer showers at Swayze Field and preparing for my sorority formal. When I returned home to my small central Florida city, I had no idea my two-week vacation would turn into a five-month stay.

I am a second-semester sophomore studying integrated marketing communications and specializing in public relations at the University of Mississippi. Due to the severity of the coronavirus, I will be finishing the remainder of my spring semester in the comfort of my own home in Winter Haven, Florida.

Though it is the place I called home for 18 years, it’s 12 hours away from my beloved college town that, in the last two years, has quickly become home. Aside from missing Oxford itself, I have been separated from the people who have become like family – my educators, my fellow peers, and the Oxford locals who welcome us students into their hometown with open arms.

It’s been an adjustment to see the same faces I grew up with every day since. I haven’t lived here since I graduated high school. To say the least, COVID-19  has taken me out of my element and disrupted the life I’ve been living for the past two years. 

I first started hearing about the virus through people posting memes and mocking COVID-19 on social media platforms. This made me laugh more than it made me worry. In all honesty, I didn’t pay much attention to the coronavirus until it sent me home from college.

I had been hearing about illnesses such as the flu, Zika virus, Ebola, and the swine flu. Since these never caused an uproar like COVID-19 since has, I never prioritized educating myself on what was actually happening around me.

I started to realize something big was happening when schools across the nation started shutting their doors. Once mine did, I knew our country was seriously being impacted.

At the time, my state had little reported cases, and my area had yet to report any. That gave me a sense of security, but since then, the state of Florida has 21,367 confirmed cases making it one of the top 10 states with the most cases. The county I reside in has a confirmed 209 cases and 25 deaths, which is scary.

Due to the growing number of confirmed cases, Governor DeSantis issued a mandatory 30-day stay at home order for all Florida residents. The order prohibits all non-essential activities, which has put a damper on the daily lives of many local families whose jobs are non-essential. 

Personally, my family and I have been very fortunate. Yes, we’ve had to give up activities that we love and adjust our daily routines, but both of my parents have transitioned to online working methods.

I am very grateful my family is still able to function somewhat normally. We have been lucky not to have been directly affected by the virus or known anyone who has been diagnosed.

It’s been difficult for me to adjust to living at home again and also having to transition to virtual classes. Since the majority of my classes are designed to be taken in a classroom, transitioning to learning online has been a challenge.

Though difficult, I’m always up for a challenge, and since starting, I’ve gotten the hang of virtual school. It’s also been a change having everyone under the same roof at the same time.

I have a younger sister who is finishing the eighth grade virtually and parents who are now working from home. We try to take advantage of this time together but also find quiet time for ourselves to decompress. 

As a family, we have completed puzzles, board games, and binge-watched many TV shows and movies. I have taken this time to focus on things I have always wanted to do or try because I now have the time.

Self care is so important, especially in times like these. I’ve made my health and happiness a priority through journaling, exercise, transitioning to a healthier lifestyle, reading many fashion magazines and crafting.

Since I go to school so far from home, I only get to see my family a couple of times a year. It’s nice to be able to spend quality time with my family. I know these times are tragic, but it’s almost been a blessing in disguise when I look at it from that standpoint. I have to look at it that way in order to keep positive hope for the future.

As we move forward, we will continue to follow the guidelines set by the CDC and our state. I have all the faith in our medical professionals that in the coming months, they will find a way to cure this rampant virus.

My hope for the future is to return to my school to enjoy my last two years as a college student with the people I love, but most of all, I hope the families who have been severely impacted will recover in the best way so they may flourish. As a country, we must be in this together to prevail against yet another pandemic.

Lily Grace Duce, 19, is a sophomore IMC major minoring in general business and double-specializing in public relations and social media. She chose to attend UM because of its vast opportunities and Oxford’s bright atmosphere.

Duce grew up in Winter Haven, Florida, a small town that helped her value the little things in life. Throughout her four years at Winter Haven High School, she was a competitive, varsity athlete and played volleyball.

She was also a member of Future Business Leaders of America and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She graduated with honors in May of 2018 and was among the few who attended college out of state. 

After coming to the university, Duce became an active member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority. In her free time, you will find her with her face in a fashion magazine, on the Square with friends, and frequenting Hotworx. Duce also has a passion for travel and hopes to see all the places and cultures the world has to offer. 

Even though she is only a sophomore, her goal is to pursue a career in the fashion industry and possibly open her own boutique after working in the field for a number of years. The creative minds in high fashion inspire her to accomplish her goals. 

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