Influencer: Why I broke the rules and traveled with my family to Florida
Influencer Ali Maffucci, who defied public health guidelines and came under fire for quitting New Jersey to drive to Florida amid a pandemic, is vehemently defending herself, saying her move “may save lives.”
The 33-year-old, who runs the cooking blog “Inspiralized,” was lambasted on Instagram and Twitter by followers outraged over her decision to uproot her family in spite of rules laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said on March 28: “The CDC urges residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from nonessential domestic travel for 14 days, effective immediately.”
But Maffucci, who fled the state on March 30, remains defiant.
“My husband and I spent hours and hours deliberating and ultimately we felt that it was essential travel because we felt like our lives were at risk where we were,” she tells The Post in an exclusive interview of her decision to take off with her husband, Lu, 2-year-old son, Luca, and 9-month-old daughter, Roma.
She points out that her family of four was in danger of contracting the coronavirus because they live in a high-rise building in Jersey City “with hundreds of people.”
“We couldn’t help but to have interacted with people if we’d stayed in Jersey City so I think our decision is actually saving lives,” she says.
“Even something as simple as receiving a grocery delivery requires you to get in an elevator, see people in the lobby, interact with your front desk person,” she adds. “Taking out the trash, you have to deal with the trash chute.”
According to statistics released Thursday, there have been 48,462 recorded cases of the coronavirus in New York City and 1,397 deaths.
As Maffucci explains in a now-deleted Instagram post from Monday — en route at a rest stop in Providence, S.C. — the sight of a fellow resident collapsing in the lobby helped make up her mind to get the hell out of dodge.
“I couldn’t stay there anymore,” she wrote in the post, next to an emoji wearing a surgical mask.
Describing the scene, Maffucci tells The Post: “I just felt helpless. I felt out of control. I felt like I couldn’t stay away from this virus and I am so lucky to have family in Florida and this safe haven.” (The neighbor, it turned out, did not have the coronavirus but had recently had surgery, says Maffucci.)
Her post prompted many of her 202,000 followers to question her motives.
“Imagine being present for the collapse of a presumably COVID-infected person and thinking: ‘The smartest thing I could do right now is drive south along the entirety of America’s east coast,’ ” said one, according to NowThis.
Another commentator said: “Wow. Horrible decision for the largely elderly community (such as my grandparents) in Florida.”
Maffucci tells The Post she has since deleted these comments and others relating to her departure on her Instagram feed, explaining, “I do not welcome negativity. Also people were fighting among each other and it was bringing out the worst in people. I had to end it.”
Nevertheless, the most severe criticisms came on Twitter, where users such as @stephenclancy16 cast aspersions on Maffuci’s I-95 road trip with the comment: “Stay out of Florida. You’re randomly spraying bullets where you go! This is premeditated germ spreading. Stay away.” (The tweet has since been deleted.)
User @BBKristina88 tweeted that she was unfollowing “Inspiralized” on all platforms in disgust. “She’s working really hard to justify her behavior and it’s so gross. She doesn’t get it,” wrote the user.
In her Instagram story, which has since expired, Maffucci posted photos of her spouse, Lu, 41, who owns an outside advertising company, and son, Luca, next to the open trunk of their car as they make stops to eat the food she’d prepacked. In the pictures, Maffucci wears gloves. “Ironically, the haters are saying this is ‘irresponsible,’ but it’s the most responsible thing we can do,” she wrote.
Maffucci says the 20-hour drive was a necessary slog to reach Jupiter, Fla., where the family will quarantine for 14 days at a friend’s rental home. They then plan to move in with Maffucci’s 64-year-old dad and 58-year-old mom, who live nearby.
Ironically, on Wednesday, Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced a state-wide stay-at-home order as the Sunshine State’s COVID-19 cases neared 7,000.
Last week, officials in Florida had expressed concern about New Yorkers heading south en masse to get away from the coronavirus-ridden state. They ordered them to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Checkpoints have been set up at Florida borders with police officers asking drivers with New York, New Jersey and Connecticut license plates about their planned movements.
Maffucci emphasizes that the family took the utmost precautions on their 1,200-mile drive, and easily passed through the checkpoint.
“We didn’t interact with anyone,” she says, maintaining that her entire family is “healthy, touch wood.” They pumped gas wearing gloves and always paid at the pump.
“Even though I understand the implications of being asymptomatic, [the authorities] do say to take these precautions to help stop the spread of the virus,” she adds. “And what I find difficult to hear is that people don’t think that that’s enough.”
Maffucci is not the only influencer to draw the ire of disappointed followers for fleeing the tri-state area in recent days. Naomi Davis of the Upper West Side, who runs “Love Taza,” was slammed for packing her family of seven into an RV to head west.
Similarly, Manhattan fashion blogger Arielle Charnos, who tested positive for COVID-19, escaped to the Hamptons.
Hoboken mom of three Jenna, who asked for only her first name to be published for privacy reasons, roasted them for bolting the city.
The former avid follower of “Inspiralized” tells The Post: “If some private citizen wants to defy CDC guidelines for nonessential travel, fine. Nothing we can really do about that. But, if you want to make a living as an influencer, then you need to respect what that means, in the good times and the bad. It means people follow your lead. They take your suggestions.”
Referring specifically to Maffucci, she adds: “They might think if it was best for Ali’s family [to leave the tri-state area], it’s best for mine, too.”
But Maffucci again defends herself by insisting that influencers are “easy targets.” She says they have developed thick skin because “you can be the juiciest peach in the world, but there’s gonna be somebody who doesn’t like peaches.”
She insists that, especially in the current climate, people need to think for themselves and not follow the lead of influencers blindly, treating them like Gospel.
“I got a lot of criticism from people saying I am promoting something that the government is saying don’t do,” she adds. “What I say is that we are all individual adults. If you’re following someone on Instagram and doing what they are doing without consulting your own research or taking into consideration your own situation, then that’s a problem.”
The mom, who has run “Inspiralized” since 2013, now wants to put the whole episode behind her. She has been updating her followers with new recipes since her arrival in Florida, including comfort dishes for the lockdown, like curries.
“I don’t want to keep harping on about [the controversy], she concludes. “I want my audience to continue to see my happiness and my bright light.”
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