An influencer has defended herself after she came under fire for defying public health guidelines and drove to Florida amid the virus pandemic, saying her move “may save lives”.

Ali Maffucci, 33, who runs the cooking blog “Inspiralized”, was lambasted on Instagram and Twitter by followers outraged over her decision to uproot her family from New Jersey to Florida despite rules laid out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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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 non-essential domestic travel for 14 days, effective immediately.”

Australians have similarly been told not to travel domestically.

But Maffucci, who fled the New Jersey 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 told the New York Post in an exclusive interview about her decision to take off with her husband, Lu, 2-year-old son, Luca, and 9-month-old daughter, Roma.

She pointed out her family of four was in danger of contracting the coronavirus because they lived in a high-rise building in Jersey City “with hundreds of people”.

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“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 said.

“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 added. “Taking out the trash, you have to deal with the trash chute.”

According to the most recent statistics, there have been 92,381 recorded cases of coronavirus in New York and 1397 deaths.

As Maffucci explains in a now-deleted Instagram post from Monday — en route at a rest stop in Providence, South Carolina — the sight of a fellow resident collapsing in the lobby helped make up her mind to get out.

“I couldn’t stay there anymore,” she wrote in the post, next to an emoji wearing a surgical mask.

Describing the scene, Maffucci told The Post she “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 neighbour, it turned out, did not have the coronavirus but had recently had surgery, Maffucci said.)

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.

Another commentator said: “Wow. Horrible decision for the largely elderly community (such as my grandparents) in Florida.”

Maffucci told The Post she had 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 behaviour 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 boot 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, Florida, 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 mum, who live nearby.

Ironically, on Wednesday, Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced a statewide stay-at-home order as the state’s COVID-19 cases neared 7000.

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 emphasises that the family took the utmost precautions on their 2000km drive, and easily passed through the checkpoint.

“We didn’t interact with anyone,” she said, maintaining her entire family was “healthy, touch wood”. They refuelled their car 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 added.

“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 New York, 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.

Jenna, a New Jersey mum-of-three and former fan of Maffucci’s blog, asked for her last name to be not published for privacy reasons, roasted the influencers for bolting the city.

“If some private citizen wants to defy CDC guidelines for non-essential travel, fine. Nothing we can really do about that,” she told The Post.

“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 area), it’s best for mine, too.”

But Maffucci again defended herself by insisting that influencers were “easy targets.”

She said 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 insisted that, especially in the current climate, people needed 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 said.

“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 mum, 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 said. “I want my audience to continue to see my happiness and my bright light.”

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission

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