Some gated communities are pulling back to slow coronavirus

Article Courtesy of  The Palm Beach Post

By Mike Diamond    

Published July 31, 2020


With Palm Beach County's stubborn trend of COVID-19 cases, some age-restricted gated communities west of Boynton Beach and Lake Worth are again going into shut-down mode.

The closings are getting push back from a number of residents who had campaigned hard for their homeowner associations to reopen in late May after a nearly three-month shutdown.

Bellagio in Lake Worth and Coral Lakes, Valencia Bay and Valencia Reserve in Boynton Beach say the closings are necessary to contain the spread of the virus. Last week, Valencia Bay and Valencia Reserve closed all of their facilities indefinitely "out of an abundance of caution."

The state Department of Health does not release case numbers for individual developments. The homeowner associations ask residents to inform them if they contract the virus but there is no law that says they must do so. State data is collected by zip code as well as by municipality. And the 33473 zip code, where the Bay and Reserve are located, has seen its number of cases increase from just 16 on June 8 to 86 on July 26. About 20,000 people live in the zip code that consists of seven gated communities; three of them age restricted.

A sign on a window: A sign posted on the door at Valencia Bay.


Most infections reported in each Florida ZIP code have affected people who live in those areas, but some cases may be people who were only tested there.

At Valencia Bay, a pickleball player who played several times a week tested positive for the virus. The HOA board has urged everyone who came into even indirect contact with the person to get tested.

At Valencia Reserve, a substitute tennis pro reported he golfed with someone and that person golfed with someone else who has the virus. The substitute tennis pro gave lessons to nine Valencia Reserve residents. All of them have been urged to get tested as well. The substitute tennis pro is awaiting his test results.

The shutdown did not sit well with one resident who posted on the Next Door community web site: "Someone played golf with someone and that person golfed with someone else who got the virus and we close down again?"

Even with the increase, at 86 cases, the 33473 ZIP code has the lowest number of cases of the 39 zip codes in Palm Beach County with a population of more than 10,000, and it is also the lowest on a per-capita basis as well. More than 30 ZIP codes have 500 or more cases, eight have more than 1,000.

Yet the average age in most age-restricted communities is well over the 65, and the HOAs are not taking any chances when it comes to the possibility of community spread.

"Obviously, we are in the midst of a pandemic that is spiking in Florida. As a result, the board will take reasonable and necessary steps to try to minimize the infection threat within our senior, at risk community," said Valencia Reserve HOA President Michael Schiffman in an email to residents on July 24. "We hope that these closures will be temporary until we are confident that the transmission risk is lowered." Calls placed to Schiffman seeking comment were not returned.

At Valencia Reserve, the HOA is doing its own contact tracing, identifying anyone who had even indirect contact with the substitute tennis pro and then urging them to get tested for the virus. The pro gave lessons to nine residents.

At Valencia Bay, the same attempt to do contact tracing is occurring. Valencia Bay management declined to comment on the shutdown.

In an email sent July 24, the Valencia Bay HOA said it decided to close the facilities out of "an abundance of caution while the investigation continues pending further developments of any spread of the virus." It also suspended its outdoor dining program.

At Coral Lakes, the board voted last week to continue its shutdown through the end of July. It only reopened for 10 days when a tennis player became infected with the virus earlier in the month. There have been three other cases reported at Coral Lakes in the last two weeks as well, prompting the board in a close vote to remain closed.

And at Bellagio, another large active-adult retirement community, facilities have been closed since June 23 after a tennis player came down with the virus.

Meanwhile, so far so good at Valencia Cove, an 833-unit retirement community just north of Valencia Bay and south of Valencia Reserve.

David Haft, HOA president, noted that the only way the community will become aware of an infection is if a resident informs management. Otherwise, it has no information. There has been only one confirmed case at the Cove, and that was more than three months ago, he said.

The community reopened its facilities on a limited basis on July 1.