March 20, 2020 -- Partying cheek to cheek with other college students is a spring break tradition, especially on Florida’s beaches. But in the age of social distancing, those crowds pose a serious health danger.
Miami, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and other local governments in the Sunshine State have taken action to drive away the spring break crowds, effectively closing public beaches in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
“We cannot become a petri dish for a very dangerous virus,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said Sunday during a news conference. “Spring break is over. The party is over.”
The mayors took the action because Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to close the beaches, saying that decision was up to local governments.
“If … they want to continue to [leave the beach open], we want them to have the freedom to do that, but we also want them to have the freedom to do more if they see fit,” the governor told TV station WFLA in Tampa.
DeSantis issued an executive order last Tuesday that urged beachgoers to observe a 6-foot separation zone and to not congregate in groups of more than 10 people. His order also put occupancy restrictions on bars and restaurants.
The local governments put different time limits on the beach closures. Fort Lauderdale’s, for instance, will last through April 12 and could be extended. The cities also placed their own restrictions on occupancy and operating hours for businesses.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said he hopes other cities in the state close their beaches. “We’re not trying to push the problem onto those cities,” he said at the news conference with Gelber.
Speaking Thursday, DeSantis defended his position, saying some counties in Florida haven’t recorded any coronavirus cases. Closing those beaches would be unfair to residents, he said.
Public health experts have said social distancing is key to stop the spread of the virus, which could become crippling to hospitals if they are overwhelmed with cases.
“And so if you have a Floridian that goes and walks their dog, like a married couple on the beach, as long as you're not within 6 feet of each other, they view that as a healthy thing,” he said.