Florida has sent a message to the rest of the country: We’re open for business.
People experiencing COVID fatigue in states with stricter lockdowns, and colder weather, are listening. Flights and hotel rooms are cheap. Out-of-state visitors are flocking to South Florida during Spring Break where they can let their hair down — and, unfortunately, their masks.
“The fact that their hometowns are too cold, or not as open as Florida, has made us the destination of choice,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said in a “COVID-19 Update” video posted online by the city.
It’s not just the drunken brawls, traffic and college students gone wild that Miami Beach and other destinations will have to contend with. Gov. DeSantis has done his best to depict Florida as the place where COVID magically doesn’t exist. Gelber, who expects more visitors than last year, told the Herald Editorial Board that he thinks it’s not just college students seeking refuge in South Florida, but also older people.
Combine that influx with Florida’s near absence of coronavirus restrictions; add the more contagious U.K. and Brazilian variants that have been found in Miami-Dade County, then mix in Spring Breakers’ “anything goes” attitude — we know, this attitude has no age limit — and we risk losing progress made since the post-holiday peak of cases and deaths.
Miami-Dade is about three-quarters of the way down from that peak. But with test positivity rates hovering between 5.7 percent and 6 percent, we’re still a long way from the low numbers we saw in the fall, when that rate got as low as 3 percent to 4 percent, Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, chair of FIU’s Department of Epidemiology, told the Editorial Board.
“Spring Break will fuel transmission in our community and it will probably fuel transmission in communities where (visitors) come from,” Trepka said.
It’s hard to tell exactly how much worse COVID numbers could get in Miami-Dade. We can’t use last year as a comparison because Spring Break happened early in the pandemic when there wasn’t enough testing, Trepka said. Holidays like Memorial Day, for example, have been tied to coronavirus surges in many parts of the country, but Spring Break is contained to specific geographical areas, so a comparison there wouldn’t be precise, either.
But we have learned there’s little good that comes from packed bars and restaurants during a pandemic.
DeSantis boasted about leaving Florida open in his annual State of the State address on Tuesday. That has helped businesses recover, but DeSantis has done so while tying the hands of local governments and prohibiting them from enforcing mask mandates and other restrictions. He now wants the Legislature to prohibit local emergency measures such as curfews. This is unspeakably cruel.
Miami Beach has approved a slew of measures to ensure visitors are following COVID-19 safety guidelines and to combat the Spring Break debauchery and criminal activity that Gelber said has become worse over the past decade. The city’s seven-week plan increases policing and code enforcement, limits parking and protects residential neighborhoods. The city is also distributing masks and has launched a social-media campaign targeting college-age visitors with the slogan “Vacation Responsibly.”
“Vacation Responsibly” and Spring Break sound like oxymorons. But we hope the slogan works. Miami-Dade needs careless large crowds like another case of COVID.