New ‘2D restaurant’ arrives in Orlando; another planned for St. Petersburg

New ‘2D restaurant’ arrives in Orlando; another planned for St. Petersburg

By Kassandra Vargas

Florida’s first 2D restaurant has opened in Orlando, and more are opening across the state.

A 2D restaurant is a restaurant that is decorated with black and white decor to give the illusion and experience that customers are entering a book, cartoon or doodle.

A 2D restaurant was featured in Netflix’s “To All the Boys: Always And Forever In Real Life” at a cafe in South Korea known as Greem Cafe. 2D restaurants are common in Asian countries and those designs have inspired the trend to come to America.

Twenty Pho Hour in Orlando is America’s first 2D noodle bar and the menu offers a variety of items from egg rolls, dumplings, boba, noodles and much more. The cafe has gone viral on TikTok and has sparked an interest to many across the state.

“I saw the video and I was like oh I might need to go check that out,” Miles Franklin said.

The noodle bar is on International Drive near many tourist attractions in town. Since the viral success, the restaurant usually has a wait, but takeout options are also available.

The restaurant has tablets inside to place your order and the food comes out as soon as it’s ready. Indoor and outdoor seating options are available, and the restaurant is open every day of the week.

St. Petersburg is dipping into the 2D experience in a couple of weeks with the opening of the 2D Cafe. The cafe is going to be in the former Swah-Rey location on Central Avenue and provides a similar experience.

The @the2Dcafe on Instagram has provided a sneak peek to their followers on the design process of the establishment. Menu items that you can expect are coffee, pastries, croissants and more. The cafe expects to open in late February or early March.

As more 2D restaurants open across the state, they will provide a unique and Instagram-worthy experience to customers who visit.

Courtesy of Twenty Pho Hour/Instagram

Planting a dream in Riverhills Park in Temple Terrace

Planting a dream in Riverhills Park in Temple Terrace

By Julia Lorelli

TAMPA – Many people in the Tampa Bay area use Riverhills Park as a peaceful escape. The 10-acre park offers an array of different amenities. Then in 2012, a few eager community members put their minds together for a solution in sustainability by founding the Temple Terrace Community Garden.

The main founders and leaders are Elizabeth Leib, Travis Mallory, Grant Rimbey and Steve McBride. Quickly joined by others who were anxious to start gardening, their dreams began to bloom.

The members put their own money into the project and wrote a few small grants for tools and supplies. Tapping into local resources, they were able to get soil and compost for free, “well if you don’t count the sweat equity they put into getting it,” said Cheri Donohue, a loyal member since the start.

The City of Temple Terrace gave them the rights to garden the plot at Riverhills Park. The community garden had to invest in the plumbing and pays for all the water used.

Tools, compost and advice for gardening are also readily available for all. From green thumbs to green heads of cabbage, this community garden is equipped with all the necessities for success.

“This is a wonderful place for new gardeners to begin,” said MaryRose, one garden member who swears she beat cancer from the power of plants.

Tools, compost and advice for gardening are also readily available for all. From green thumbs to green heads of cabbage, the Temple Terrace Community Garden is equipped with all the necessities for success. | Photo by Julia Lorelli

The garden is accessible through a yearly membership of $10 with garden beds available for $35.

Fruit trees surround the perimeter of the garden so most members grow seasonal vegetables. Occasionally a newsletter is sent by the club coordinator to encourage members with tips and tricks for harvesting, what vegetables to plant during each season, natural pest control and volunteer opportunities.

“I am still in love with the idea of neighbors coming together to grow not only healthy food but to pass on their knowledge about best garden practices,” Donohue said.

To learn more information about the community garden visit the Tempe Terrace Community Gardens website or email Shelby Alinsky at

‘Take Back the Dome’ movement urges reparations to St. Petersburg’s Black community

‘Take Back the Dome’ movement urges reparations to St. Petersburg’s Black community

By Sierra Laco

A local organization is working on an initiative of material and financial reparations to demand the return of the 86 acres of land under Tropicana Field to St. Petersburg’s Black community.

The Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM) is a local organization of white people led by the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP). Originated locally under the leadership of St. Petersburg native and APSP co-founder Omali Yeshitela, the movement aims to organize the white community to build a mass movement for reparations to the Black community in solidarity with the Black community’s struggle for liberation.

The land that the Tropicana Field sits upon was once a vibrant Black community. Built between 1890 and 1900, the “Gas Plant District” housed over 100 Black-owned businesses, 800 Black Families, and numerous Black churches. In 1986, the city began the destruction of this community to build the Tropicana Field on the land.

The USM has crafted a feasible economic plan for the city of St. Petersburg to return the land back to its Black citizens—28.6% of which currently live below the poverty line. The USM is hosting a community rally to demand that these reparations are given to the local Black community, and they are also hosting a community teach-in to inform St. Pete locals about the tragic history of the Gas Plant District.

In the 1980s, the city of St. Petersburg displaced over 800 Black families to build what is now known as Tropicana Field. The Uhuru Solidarity Movement is demanding the city to give back what was stolen. | Photo by Sierra Laco

Jamie Simpson, an organizer for the St. Petersburg branch of the USM, is leading the task force to get these events organized and ready for the community to attend. As a former University of South Florida St. Petersburg student and frequent visitor to the school, Simpson hopes that more USFSP students will join the movement and its current initiatives.

“USF St. Pete is a great place to recruit for the Uhuru Solidarity Movement because students are often excited to find out there’s something they can do to advocate for change,” Simpson said. “There is a lot of participation and activism that can be won on campus.”

Some professors at USFSP have been vocal in their support of many of the movement’s initiatives. Julie Armstrong, a literature professor at USF and former professor of Simpson; and Chairman of the National Uhuru Solidarity Movement Jesse Nevel, encourage their students to take action with the movement.

Members of the movement often visit USFSP to inform students of what it’s doing and how they can get involved.

One of the students who has recently become involved with the USM is Paige LaMaster, a current pre-med student at USFSP. She met Simpson while he was tabling on campus, and she instantly became interested in the organization and what they stand for.

When asked what advice she would give to other students that are interested in becoming involved with the USM, she had a simple yet powerful answer.

“I would say 100% to get involved with the meetings. Just sit down for one and see some of the people from the committee, get to each other and from there you would realize that it’s actually a very open and welcoming organization you can participate in,” LaMaster said.

The USM hosted the “Reparations Now! Take Back the Dome” Community Rally on Feb. 9 at the Uhuru House located at 1245 18th Ave S. The USM will also host a “Take Back the Dome” Community Teach-in at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 at Booker Creek Park, 2300 13th Ave N.

Anyone interested in the movement can visit to learn more.

Morean Studio is Tampa Bay’s hub for glass blowing

Morean Studio is Tampa Bay’s hub for glass blowing

By Emerson Taylor

SAINT PETERSBURG – Downtown St. Petersburg is a center for art and culture, and the Morean Glass Studio is a spot for artists and visitors to view demonstrations and the products being sold.

Despite the fact that consumers utilize glassware nearly every day, glass as a medium for art is relatively recent in the American glass movement. According to the History of Glass, glass blowing dates back to the 1st century B.C. in Syria, but new techniques developed in the 1820s updated the process by mechanically pressing heated glass.

There are a variety of art collections and art workshops that any visitor should see when visiting the Tampa Bay area. Whether you want to go to the Hot Shop or the Dale Chihuly exhibit across the street from the studio. Jewelry-making, metal sculpture, mixed media, painting, photography, printing and more are all available to the public to take at the Hot Shop.

Bao Thao, the shop’s store manager, who has been there for four years gave an exclusive interview on the studio. Thao is a professional artist that worked as an independent contractor up into a position at the glass studio.

Thao pursued a degree in glass blowing at the University of Wisconsin Madison and longtime friend Matt Evanbrock introduced her to the Arts Center. Thao, at the time, was living in Alaska because of her position in the AmeriCorps. She had never heard of St. Petersburg and moved.

Being the “studio b****” for a year and a tenacious worker eventually landed her a full-time job as the retail store manager. Thao frequently uses the furnace and equipment, her art is even featured inside the store.

“People think that glass is a very mysterious, like a magical medium,” said Bao Thao, the store manager for the Hot Shop at the Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg.

Why should people come to the Arts Center?

Thao: “People think that glass is a very mysterious, like a magical medium.. The American glass movement is very young,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see how glass is made, especially if you have no history with it. You don’t understand all how it works, but we use glass every day… To have a place like an art center like this, where we have those resources to teach people about this medium that we use every day, is also really helpful,”

What is something about glassblowing that the average person probably would not know?

Thao: “You cannot master glass until you have over 10,000 hours or so of working with glass… It is very difficult to work with,” she said. “In the beginning classes, when I was teaching glassblowing, it was very intense and intimidating. The furnaces are 2000 degrees, so once you get used to that, and like, you know, you can start to form your bubbles and shape it, and it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time to actually really master the craft.

Why is art important to society?

Thao: “Art is a way of documenting our culture. Everything that we consume and use is artistic, everything that we use is artistic, even engineers and architects have created, so there is an art form to it. Everything is art it is and so, to be interested in art, to collect art, is collecting a piece of your own history and collecting a piece of our future as well.”

The Morean Arts Center and studio is the Tampa Bay area’s hub for learning glass blowing and shopping artisan glass pieces. | Photos by Emerson Taylor

Whatever your interests are, Morean offers something catered for you. There are classes and exhibits for everyone, whether you want to learn how to manufacture an ornament or just admire Dale Chihuly’s work.

USF St. Petersburg student, Sierra Laico, is a guest services associate at the studio. Laico stresses that her job has transformed into a learning experience for her. The Morean gives artists and those interested in art a place to come and enrich their minds.

“I’ve learned how much work they put into creating something—I consider myself lucky to work alongside some of the most hardworking and talented people in the city,” she said.


The Chihuly Collection, Morean Glass Studio and the Arts Center are open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit today at Central Avenue and Eighth Avenue and discover the interesting world of glass blowing.

Artists shine at St. Petersburg’s 7th annual mural festival

By Lauren Wood

Artist Woes Martin paints a third panda bear on his mural at 2343 Emerson Ave. S in St. Petersburg. Photo by Lauren Wood

Armed with a palette of colors, a handful of rollers and the support of early 2000s Black Eyed Peas songs, Emily Ding begins her 10-day project for the seventh annual SHINE Mural Festival in downtown St. Petersburg.

She draws upon feelings of self-growth and rebirth to produce an image of a baby deer in a bed of flowers, inspired by the city and the Rob Graham Enterprises building itself.

“It’s like Bambi but extra, extra, extra large,” Ding said. “I heard a bunch of perspectives from people inside this building, Rob Graham Enterprises, and how they do their business through a lot of hardships.”

Her artwork, which explores the concepts of flora, fauna and human behavior, is illustrated in a gentle, painterly style. It is reminiscent of an animal folklore book she received from her father when she was younger.

“I usually like to convey human emotions by using animals. I like to focus on conflicting emotions, or tender emotions, or both,” Ding said.

Beyond her beginnings in Houston, Texas, Ding’s work stretches to places such as Bali, Indonesia, and Shanghai, China. As an American-born Chinese artist, this project was particularly special for Ding.

“It was really cool painting where I’m from. It was really close to where my dad’s from, and my aunt visited, and my grandma saw my tattoos and saw me as a muralist,” Ding said.

Ding has other murals displayed across the United States, such as in Nevada, Indiana, Texas, Florida, and Michigan, where she was a part of the Flint Public Art Project in 2019.

She has also completed some murals in Los Angeles, where another SHINE mural artist is based.

Aaron “Woes” Martin, born on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, has been creating graffiti art since the late 1990s. Though his first mural was completed in 2010, he has since worked with major international corporations like Disney, Kidrobot, New Era and even Fandango for the release of Kung Fu Panda 3.

Martin is most known for his linework and vicious panda bears, with fang-like teeth, vacant eyes and sharpened claws. They were the product of a friend’s mistake, leaving Martin to paint with only two colors: black and white.

“It was a mistake, actually. I was painting a grizzly bear, but my friend forgot to bring my paint, so I only had black and white, so I had to roll with black and white,” Martin said.

Since then, these paradoxical panda bears have been Martin’s staple, following him worldwide and repopulating places like Switzerland, Mongolia, Berlin and Japan.

“I kind of adopted the fact that pandas were on the extinct list … so I was like, forget it, I’m going to try and put pandas all over the place,” Martin said.

During his time at the SHINE Mural Festival, Martin estimated that he uses approximately 300 cans of spray paint for his warehouse mural. After finishing this year’s mural, he wishes to come back and complete more art for the city one day.

“You guys have a lot of cool murals, and no one disses them, you know? I love it,” Martin said.

Although the SHINE Mural Festival ended on Oct. 24, Ding’s and Martin’s work still lives at 100 Seventh St. S. and 2343 Emerson Ave. S, respectively.

Emily Ding’s mural in progress at 100 Seventh St. S in St. Petersburg.
Photo by Lauren Wood

Love grows: The future of urban farming in St. Petersburg

By Lauren Wood

Two of Brick Street Farms’ hydroponic pods at the urban farmstead in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central Arts district.

In the heart of the Grand Central Arts and Warehouse Districts lies a 48-acre farm that grows and harvests crops 365 days a year — all within a few hydroponic shipping containers.

What was once an idea in an overrun junkyard on the corner of 2001 2nd Ave. S in St. Petersburg is now the future home to Brick Street Farms’ hubs. This urban farmstead focuses on the future of food security, food safety and ecological sustainability.

“The market here is pretty special because not only do we have fresh produce that is from our farms on-site, but we also have a lot of local produce as well,” Jonathan “Jonny” Cheng said.

Cheng has been with Brick Street Farms as a farm support specialist since February. Over the summer, he got his master’s degree from the University of South Florida (USF) in food sustainability and security. Still, he wishes to stay with Brick Street Farms as the company expands.

“I’m hoping that we can possibly teach about [hydroponics] in the future to lower-income areas and kind of help those communities have their own sustainable food,” Cheng said.

In 2016, owners Shannon O’Malley and Brad Doyle purchased the industrial-zoned lot with hopes to provide locally-sourced and health-conscience foods to St. Petersburg. Now, they are expanding to other areas in Tampa Bay and have partnered with larger vendors to offer an adequate farm-to-table experience for consumers.

According to O’Malley, in January 2020, Brick Street Farms sold 12 times its projected volume at its test site at a Publix Supermarket in Lakeland. This encouraged O’Malley and Doyle to open other locations in the area, including their newly-renovated home base in St. Petersburg, which will open in 2022.

A “first look” rendering of Brick Street Farms’ urban-cultivation hub was revealed in October, with promises to incorporate solar energy and smart energy management in the new model. As a result, this will help Brick Street Farms gain the most out of their non-carbon-generating electricity sources.

“These systems will be able to determine the most efficient, least carbon impact power source at any given time, choosing between the electric utility, on-site solar power with battery storage and on-site natural gas generator,” Brick Street Farms wrote in an Instagram post.

Currently, Brick Street Farms is situated at 2233 3rd Ave. S in St. Petersburg with 16 individual hydroponic farms. All pods were carefully designed to grow produce, control energy sources and minimize the carbon footprint.

Each Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) container holds approximately 2-3 acres of farmland, with arugula, spinach, basil, mixed kale and 40 other herbs and vegetables. However, all produce is non-GMO and grown without soil, which means there is no pesticide, insecticide or the possibility of soil-borne contamination.

“What CEA does for us is it gives us mitigation against climate change. Obviously, our farmers are struggling, we’ve got crazy weather patterns, but now we can control that interior environment,” said Dr. Brooke Hansen, a sustainability-focused anthropologist from USF who specializes in food tourism, waste management and farming.

Hansen believes that urban farming and agriculture can potentially divert greenhouse gas, waste and hunger issues while simultaneously providing citizens with locally produced, nutritious and healthy foods.

“I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all solution everywhere. I think it’s one part of a multifaceted solution package that needs to include community gardens, regenerative agriculture, you know, actually in the ground, promoting soil biodiversity, but it’s one of many solutions,” Hansen said. “It allows us to grow food in places where we normally couldn’t, i.e. a parking lot in St. Petersburg. I love that. It’s a farm, and it’s truly amazing.”

Learn more about Brick Street Farms and shop its online store at

Local artists realize dream to paint in St. Petersburg’s SHINE Mural Festival

By Candice Lovelace

Photo by Candice Lovelace

This year’s SHINE Mural Festival featured two new local artists for its seventh anniversary.

The festival started in 2015 with the goal of shining a light on the power of art in public spaces by revitalizing areas, inspiring dialogues and uniting our community.

Artists use the walls and streets of St. Petersburg to transform the city’s shared spaces into an outdoor gallery featuring top artists from around the area, country and the world. Since the start of this festival, more than 100 murals have been created around St. Petersburg and its art districts.

Laura Spencer, an illustrator, and Jared Wright, a freelance artist, were both invited to participate in this year’s festival for the first time. Spencer, also known as Miss Crit, was born and raised in St. Petersburg, while Wright is originally from Clearwater, but now resides in Trinity.

Spencer was overjoyed and humbled when she was invited to participate in this year’s festival.

“Participating in SHINE has been a dream of mine since the Mural Festival’s inception,” Spencer said. “It’s been a really rough year for me personally, so getting that email from SHINE was a huge, humbling experience – I really hope to make myself and everyone proud with this one!”

A few years ago, Spencer had the privilege of designing an electrical box for SHINE. Since then, she has hustled to gain more mural experience. It’s important for Spencer to create art in the context of her surroundings.

“This is a continuation of a floral concept I started for a mural series at The Blueberry Patch (in Gulfport) earlier this year,” Spencer said. “It just so happens that this mural is on the side of a florist shop too – Absolutely Beautiful Flowers! It’s really important to me to create art in the context of my surroundings, so I think this is a satisfying design solution.”

Wright was “super excited” when he was invited to participate in this year’s festival. He called it the “perfect opportunity.”

“I’ve always wanted to contribute to the local art scene and this was just about the perfect opportunity,” Wright said.

Wright’s inspiration for his mural was an idea he’s had in his head for a while. When he got invited, this idea was the first thing he started sketching up.

“The concept is an owl holding a snake,” Wright said while describing his mural. “The snake is wrapping around the whole mural almost framing it, but the snake and owl are not fighting… The narrative is loose, but it’s about the harmony and balance of nature.”

Wright has never created a mural before but has always admired murals and muralists.

“I actually have never done any murals before, but I have been a fan since I can remember,” Wright said. “I’m excited to see how this turns out.”

This year’s festival ran from Oct. 15 to Oct. 24.

Spencer’s mural can be found at Absolutely Beautiful Flowers located at 3000 Central Ave., while Wright’s can be found at Colony Grill located at 670 Central Ave.

Photo by Candice Lovelace

St. Petersburg welcomes 20 new murals during 2021 SHINE festival

By Mark Griffin

Artist Greg Mike painted this cartoon-themed mural at 915 1st Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Photo by Mark Griffin

When the seventh annual SHINE Mural Festival concluded, St. Petersburg has added 20 new murals to its collection.

Throughout the years, SHINE has drawn in artists from around the world to showcase their skills in large-scale mural paintings.

The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance (SPAA) produces the event each year. The local non-profit organization said its goal is to, “raise money through individual and corporate gifts, event sponsorships, and grants that support community-wide arts efforts.”

During SHINE, which ran Oct. 15-24, artists could be seen creating their art while mingling with the city’s residents.

This year, seven artists from the Tampa Bay area participated in the SHINE Festival. One Tampa artist who goes by the name of Jujmo created her illustrated version of a jungle that can be found at 2221 5th Ave. S.

Jujmo was also involved with one of three “Bright Spot” murals that were designed to teach children in the area about mural painting and art. She draws her inspiration from anime, color and folklore which is evident when looking at her artwork.

When asked why she participated in this year’s SHINE festival Jujmo said, “I wanted to participate because not only do I get to paint a massive wall, being with your artistic peers that you’ve looked up to through the years is just a different experience. I literally get so excited being around them.”

As residents walked around the downtown area seeing the murals in their beginning stages, a sense of community took hold. People could be seen snapping pictures of the work in progress. Local shops and bars were full of patrons who were drawn in by this year’s event. Artists interacted with residents and shared their inspiration with admirers.

BakPak Durden, an artist from Detroit, Mich., showcased their mural at 919 1st Ave. N, which is home to local bar The Bends, known for its live music and monthly art shows.

“Pretty much the entire experience has been delightful. Everyone has been very kind. The festival organizers are very thoughtful, and I could tell how much care and intention went into everything,” Durden said. “And the folks at The Bends were excited for me to paint, so that was great.”

More than 100 murals have been painted since SHINE’s beginning in 2015. Now, 20 more can be enjoyed by locals and tourists walking through the city.

The early stages of artist BakPak Durden’s mural at 919 1st Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Photo by Mark Griffin

St. Petersburg’s SHINE Mural Festival returns with artists from around the world

St. Petersburg’s SHINE Mural Festival returns with artists from around the world

By Edyn Gottlieb

Artist Emily Ding’s fawn mural on the Rob Graham Enterprise building at 100 7th St. S in St. Petersburg. Photo by Edyn Gottlieb

The annual SHINE Mural Festival returned to St. Petersburg for the seventh year, adorning the city’s arts district with 16 new murals.

SHINE is committed to uniting and transforming the community by converting public spaces into outdoor galleries with a diverse collection of artists.

The festival ran from October 15-24 and was produced by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, a nonprofit that started the event in 2015.

Over the past seven years, SHINE has brought over 100 murals to the city.

SHINE attracts the best mural artists both locally, and from across the globe. This year, artists traveled from as far as Germany and Columbia to participate in the nationally recognized festival.

Auraileus, a St. Petersburg native, was ecstatic when he was selected by SHINE to be an artist in this year’s festival.

“I’ve always wanted to participate, I am really trying to be a famous artist because I love art and I really like to eat, so I can’t be a starving artist,” Aurailieus said.

Auraileus has been a part of the local art scene since before SHINE began.

Prior to the festival, there was already a growing mural movement in the city, but Aurailieus feels that SHINE was able to take the movement to the next level.

While this is his first time participating in the festival, Aurailieus has adorned the city with several murals over the years, many of which have been painted over or lost to history.

Aurailieus’s work is colorful, creative, and imaginative and uses a combination of fine and urban art. For Auraileus, inspiration is not hard to come by.

“I am an inspiration sponge,” Aurailieus’s said. “Maybe it’s ADHD, maybe it’s how rampant capitalism and advertisements bombard your brain with thirty thousand images a day, but everything is everywhere all of the time. You can drag a spoon through the air and eat delicious inspirations soup.”

Aurailieus’s mural can be found on the Zen Art building at 600 27th St. S. Auraileus hopes that when people visit his mural they will stop and, in that moment, feel happy they are there with whoever they are with.

Artist Emily Ding traveled from Texas to participate in SHINE. She has been painting murals for almost five years.

Ding was thrilled when SHINE reached out to her with an invitation to participate in the festival. She has wanted to paint with SHINE since she first learned about the festival in 2018 when she drove through St. Petersburg on her way to Miami.

In her art, Ding strives to portray emotions and experiences for the viewer with bold colors and expressive creatures. Her mural depicts a fawn surrounded by foliage.

“The tree in front of the building gave me the most direction for a design,” Ding said. “The tree blends in very well. I’m aiming for a feeling of tenderness and growth.”

Ding’s mural can be found on the Rob Graham Enterprise building at 100 7th St S.

The festival also brought three community “Bright Spots” murals to the area, which are intended to engage and inspire the community. This included a week-long, mural-making tutorial led by Tampa-based artist, Jujmo.

Jujmo worked with the children in the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation art club, a program designed to close the achievement gap for students in South St. Petersburg, to give them hands-on experience making a mural. Six days into SHINE, Jujmo felt the festival was an experience like no other.

“My favorite part so far has been the full immersive experience of hanging with the artists and being a part of something really special for St. Pete,” Jujmo said. “The whole staff has worked tirelessly to create an amazing atmosphere for us, and it truly is an honor to be a part of SHINE.”

Jujmo’s mural can be found on the A-1 Recovery building at 2221 5th Ave. S.

While this was many artists’ first experience with SHINE, others have been a part of the festival since its inception.

Chad Mize is a multimedia artist, designer and muralist and was an artist at the first SHINE festival in 2015. For the past three years, Mize has worked on the curation side of the festival and is part of the team that selects which artists will participate in the annual festival.

In 2018, Mize opened the MIZE Gallery in the Historic Uptown neighborhood. On Oct. 22, the gallery hosted an exhibit that featured 77 artists and celebrated the conclusion of the seventh SHINE Mural Festival.

Artist Jujmo’s mural on the A-1 Recovery building at 2221 5th Ave. S in St. Peterburg. Photo by Edyn Gottlieb

Amid tensions over COVID-19 restrictions, Disney World brings back mask requirements

As COVID-19 continues to surge within the U.S., one health care worker shared her thoughts on visiting theme parks amid the ongoing pandemic.
Courtesy of | Joe Burbank

By Madison Jackson

USFSP Student Reporter

One of the happiest places on Earth also can’t seem to ignore the world is still dealing with a pandemic.

Walt Disney World decided in June to again require face coverings indoors, regardless if they are vaccinated. However, wearing a face covering in an outside setting remains optional but encouraged in crowded areas.

“As we have done since reopening, we’ve been very intentional and gradual in our approach to our COVID-19 health and safety protocols,” Disney mentioned in a previous statement, also adding, “We encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Disney’s policies were updated to reflect ongoing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the new health and safety protocols at Disney include:

● Face coverings are required for all guests (ages 2 and up) in all indoor locations, regardless of vaccination status.
● Easy access to handwashing facilities and hand sanitizer dispensers.
● Limited availability within each of the theme parks, as managed by a park reservation system.

While some still debate the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC and other health leaders around the world continue to advocate for everyone who can get the shot to slow the spread of coronavirus. The first COVID-19 vaccine to get full FDA approval was from Pfizer-BioNTech, which was originally allowed under an emergency use authorization.

Still, only about 53.2% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and about 53.2% of Floridians are fully vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization and data from the Florida Department of Health.

As cases in the United States and in Florida continue to rise, especially that of the highly contagious delta variant, the CDC and other world health leaders say it is more important now than ever to keep social distancing and wearing face coverings even if you are fully vaccinated.

The surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the delta variant has weighed especially heavy on front-line health care workers.

“It has become incredibly stressful at work. I literally go to work all day, sleep a few hours, and then go back,” said Gina Finch, a frontline worker at Baycare Mease Countryside Hospital in Clearwater. “Especially because we are worried about a new surge of cases due to the summer break and with children going back to school … I strongly urge everyone to get vaccinated.”

While dealing with the overwhelming surge of COVID-19 cases as a health professional, Finch is also a Disney lover and has been a Disney World pass holder for a few years. She expressed uncertainty about the safety of visiting theme parks because of the high potential for large crowds.

“I love Disney World as much as anyone else and I definitely try to go there when I can,” she said. “However, I don’t know if now is that great of a time to be enjoying large gatherings like a theme park. Personally, I haven’t gone since the new spike in cases. This virus is dangerous, and people need to wake up and realize this is all real and shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

Florida, currently, is a huge hot spot for rising COVID-19 cases. Because of this, Florida has also become a political battleground over what kind of restrictions should be in place, especially within private companies and in schools.

Recently, the mayor of Orange County, where Disney World is located, announced an executive order declaring a state of local emergency in response to a surge in cases. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis remains opposed to mandating many restrictions related to the pandemic.

“I think that those who are fully vaccinated are probably okay going to Disney. Do I think it’s completely safe? No. But as long as everyone who is vaccinated continues to protect themselves by washing their hands, social distancing, and wearing a mask are most likely okay. I don’t think unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people should be going there, but I guess it’s their choice. To me, it just seems too risky,” Finch said.

Finch advised people to be more cautious as the number of cases continues to tick up. While many want to get back to a sense of normalcy, Finch said “acting like everything is back to normal is just not helping.”

“Our hospitals are filling up with patients quickly. Just the other day we had a 17-year-old who was doing okay at first, but we had to airlift him to another hospital because he wasn’t able to breathe,” she said.