Across the country, state and local governments are easing restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The virus continues to kill and new cases pile up, leaving businesses and communities struggling with when and how to resume operations. Florida’s robust nudist industry is no different.
“We’re in the first phase of our four-phase reopening plan, with phase four being everything goes back to normal — but whether we’ll actually get to that, nobody knows,” said Mike Kush, marketing director of Lake Como, founded in 1941 as the Florida Athletic and Health Association.
Florida’s year-round balmy weather has made it a magnet for tourists with a taste for clothing-optional swimming, tennis and volleyball. Florida has more nudist resorts than any other state — 29 registered clubs, more than twice as many as California.
Like all other aspects of the tourism industry, Florida’s nudist resorts have been hurt by the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders. Lake Como was open only to its 200 year-round residents; the 800 who visit regularly were locked out. The resort also canceled three of its biggest events, including its Dare to Go Bare 5K Run, which usually attracts 150 unclothed competitors.
Nobody knows yet how much money the resorts will lose this year because of stay-at-home orders and quarantines, said Erich Schuttauf, executive director of the American Association for Nude Recreation.
Roe Ostheim, 72, a 24-year resident of Cypress Cove Nudist Resort in Kissimmee, normally stays busy playing tennis, golf and pickleball in the nude. For two months, she had to content herself with riding her bicycle around the resort — but she didn’t mind.
“I feel safer in here than I do anywhere else,” the Scottish retiree said, explaining that the resort’s residents all know each other and look out for each other.
Ostheim said a few residents have complained about the resort keeping its gym closed, as well as a temporary requirement to wear a mask in common areas, but she is not one of them. She’s glad that the golf course has reopened, albeit with some new rules: “Nobody touches anybody else’s ball, and we all start on a different hole, alternating with the one, three and five holes.”
Her friend Carolyn Hawkins, 77, has lived at Cypress Cove for 40 years, and said she’s never seen such a strange time. In the past, when other residents would stop by her house, she would gladly invite them in — but not now.
“I don’t ever let anybody in my house,” she said.
She helps supervise the resort’s recently reopened pool, where swimmers are limited to 10 at a time and must stay six feet apart.
“That’s a little challenging,” Hawkins said, noting that the rules have sparked a little grumbling. “A lot of people are waiting to get in, but they also don’t want to see it shut down again.”
All in all, though, she was glad she was inside the resort when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued his stay-at-home orders.
“I could hang out in my house with no clothes on, and there’s no stress here,” she said.
At Hidden Lake Resort, near the Panhandle town of Jay, visitors who had recently arrived from New York, Canada and Illinois were allowed to stay on during the shutdown. It was safer than sending them home, said owner Jim Nowling. Meanwhile, nobody else was allowed in. Nowling said he had to cancel pages of reservations.
Hidden Lake is one of the smallest nudist resorts in Florida. It typically has about 35 people staying there over Memorial Day weekend, Nowling said. That marks the end of their busy season, which begins in October and goes all winter and into the spring.
With just a handful of guests over the past two months, the 800-acre resort was particularly quiet. Nowling said they lit a bonfire most nights and held potluck dinners.
Hidden Lake and the other resorts began reopening in mid-May. Doing so has meant some changes. For instance, people who normally wear nothing are now walking around wearing masks.
“We’ll have tan lines, but in a different place,” Schuttauf joked.
Some popular resort amenities — bars with live music, like the Butt Hutt, for instance — are still deemed too risky to reopen. Others are once again accessible, but with limits.
At Cypress Cove, management announced that only three people at a time will be allowed in the outdoor hot tub, and then for only 15 minutes at a time. Six can occupy the indoor hot tub, but still for only 15 minutes. Meanwhile, only 10 people at a time can occupy the pool, and for a maximum of 30 minutes per person.
The Caliente Club & Resorts in Land o’ Lakes, which bills itself as “the hottest nudist resort in the country,” posted a long list of new precautions ahead of its May 11 reopening: new hand sanitizer stations, increased cleaning, menu boards rather than handed-out menus, disposable cutlery in the restaurant, and thermal imaging cameras to check body temperature.
Lake Como and Caliente are both in Pasco County, which has so many nudist resorts it’s become known as the “Nudist Capital of the U.S.” Pasco officials have embraced the nudist resorts because they generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourist taxes.
Nudists may not have pockets, but they do have a lot of money to spend. A 2017 study by Saint Leo University, paid for by the association, estimated that 2.2 million nudists visit resorts and beaches and take nude cruises, contributing more than $7 billion to Florida’s economy.
Nudism first caught on in the United States 90 years ago, brought over by German immigrants who believed the best way to commune with nature was in one’s birthday suit. The nation’s first resort for nudists opened in New York’s Hudson River valley in 1931 and drew 200 members as well as police raids. A judge acquitted the members of lewd behavior, ruling they had done their best to avoid exposing the public to naked bodies.
In the 1940s, the nudism movement spread across the country, particularly once resorts began including pools and RV parking. Now they range from expensive lodging with glitzy nightclubs and four-star restaurants to facilities with few amenities beyond nature trails and a high fence.
Nudism, however, isn’t necessarily any more or less dangerous than a clothed lifestyle when it comes to the coronavirus.
“I don’t see wearing clothing as being much of a risk factor,” said University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins. As for whether swimming and sunbathing can block the virus’s spread, she said, “it depends on whether you’re doing social distancing.”
“It’s generally safer to be outside than inside,” said Marissa J. Levine, director of the Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice at the University of South Florida. Other than that, she said, nudism offers no real advantages in warding off the virus.
Prins and Levine did agree that one special instruction Caliente’s management offered its residents might not be as effective as it hoped.
“Being wonderful and social we know our members and guests often greet each other with a hug and a kiss,” the Caliente notice said. “In this time we might suggest a variation … We might suggest embracing the butt bump. It’s more fun than the elbow bump and doubles as a great move on the dance floor.”
Prins said: “I would recommend — not.”