From what we read in newspaper travel sections and see on TV commercials, Florida has sent a message to the rest of the country: We’re open for business.
People experiencing COVID fatigue in northern states with stricter lockdowns, and colder weather, are listening. Flights and hotel rooms are cheap. Out-of-state visitors are flocking to South Florida — and, unfortunately dropping 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.
Gelber, who expects more visitors than last year, told the Miami Herald Editorial Board that he thinks it’s not just college students seeking refuge in South Florida, but also older people, the newspaper reported. Many colleges, including SUNY, have eliminated Spring Break.
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 an “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.
With test positivity rates hovering between 5.7% and 6% we’re still a long way from the low numbers Florida 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.
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.”