- Beatriz Díez (@bbc_diez)
- BBC News Mundo, Miami Beach
Miami Beach is under a triple threat.
This is how its mayor, the democrat Dan Gelber, considers it, for whom this triple threat is made up of the number of visitors who arrive through the spring break (the spring break so popular with young Americans), the crowds in the streets, and the covid-19 pandemic.
Health experts have also sounded alarms at the images of beaches and bars full of young people who celebrate without a mask and without keeping social distance, as if there is no longer a pandemic.
They fear that within a few weeks there will be a new spike in infections, which were down in Florida, and warn of the risk of new variants of the virus appearing and spreading which can be highly transmissible.
“We are very concerned,” Dr. José Gonzales, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Miami, tells BBC Mundo.
“We must insist on the need to observe precautionary measures, such as the use of a mask and keeping your distance.”
Added to the alarm by the health situation is the alert for acts of violence that have led to more than 100 arrests and firearms seizures in recent days and increased the number of police officers on the streets, particularly in the touristy South Beach neighborhood.
For the residents of Miami Beach, the history of chaos and lack of control that exists these days is repetitive, with scenes that could well correspond to those of other years.
For visitors, especially those who reside in cold places, South Florida remains a ideal destination and easily accessible thanks to cheap airline tickets.
“We just come here to have a good time, we don’t want any problems,” says Shafal, a young man from the Bronx of New York who has just arrived in the city.
And for the local government, which recognizes that the city’s economy is closely linked to tourism and hospitality, the situation is presented as a puzzle in which it is necessary to fit in and respond to the needs of all.
As before the pandemic
The arrival period of springbreakers Florida runs from late February to mid-April.
It is several weeks in which travelers come and go.
But these days is when the influx of visitors is most noticeable, not only on the beaches but in the streets and restaurants of both South Beach and other areas further north.
Last Saturday, for example, traffic jams in the North Beach area, the lines in supermarkets and the number of people on the terraces and inside the premises were practically the same as before the arrival of the coronavirus.
For the owners of the Juice & Coffee Bar in North Beach, this is nothing but good news.
“We understand the concern of the authorities,” they tell us, “but in the hospitality industry We have had a very bad year and now we begin to see the light“.
“We require our clients to wear a mask and we follow all sanitary recommendations. But the economy is also very important.”
The governor’s bet
The economy was precisely the great bet of the governor of Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis, who on September 25 reopenedor the state and lifted sanitary restrictions.
DeSantis prohibited state city and county governments from imposing fines for not wearing a mask or not respecting social distancing, something Miami Beach had been doing.
Months after that controversial decision, the governor refers to the state’s economic data to defend that he did the right thing:
- the unemployment is below 5% (in April 2020 it amounted to more than 13%)
- restaurants and bars function almost at the same level as before the coronavirus
- hotel occupancy is 20% lower than usual, a figure that points to the recovery of one of the sectors most affected by the closures of the first months of the pandemic
All this, DeSantis presumes, while the rate of infections and deaths from coronavirus remains below that of other states that have applied restrictive measures.
That self-confidence is one of the main risks, says Gonzales.
“We know that the numbers are going down in Florida,” he admits, “but the presence of all these people without masks and without keeping their distance is a way of looking for trouble.”
“Having all these people together increases the possibility that the virus will spread again and the cases will increase.”
It is still too early to know if that increase will occur, something that we will learn about in the coming weeks.
The expert recalls that the danger is not only in Florida: all these visitors They will return to their places of habitual residence where they can infect family and friends.
Right to fun
The young people who fill the streets of Miami Beach these days, many of them newcomers with their suitcases and looking carefully at cell phones to know where they have to go, do not want to be singled out as responsible for a possible new wave.
“It’s my vacation and I come to get drunk and have fun,” says an excited Shafal as he waits on a bench with a friend for the time to enter the AirBnB apartment they have reserved.
“I’m not worried about the coronavirus at all. I’ll be here for four days,” he exclaims, dancing.
A few feet away, two young men Lisa and Kate from Minnesota enthusiastically watch a game of volleyball on the beach.
They clarify, almost offended, that they are not here “of spring break“, perhaps aware of the media attention on this phenomenon.
Beyond the qualifier that is given, the truth is that they are in Miami Beach, on vacation, for a week, and they are not worried about the pandemic either.
It is mid-morning and the images that have circulated on social networks of crowds in bars or on the streets preventing the circulation of traffic and jumping on police cars are still not seen.
Bars are particularly dangerous places, experts warn. Not only are they usually too crowded, but there is often a lot of noise in them, so people have to scream and that increases the spread of the virus.
What many of the visitors do not know is that the curfew is still in force, whereby all venues close at midnight.
“Don’t be silly. Don’t come here if you think this is a place where anything goes. We will arrest you and that will ruin your stay here,” declared the mayor of Miami Beach.
For some residents, the situation is reaching such a limit that they demand that radical measures be taken immediately, even if that hurts tourism.
“Spread the word of that everything closes at 12“says Phil, a South Beach resident who tells us that this is the first time in 14 years that he is considering leaving Miami.
“The national narrative is that Florida is open and anything is possible. Some are surprised to learn that there is a curfew at 12. They can’t party until 4 in the morning like before. What affects our tourism economy for a couple of years? So be it. What affects our reputation? So be it, “he defends indignantly.
For Colleen, another resident of the area, you have to assume that visitors are going to arrive “no matter what.”
“Most come just to have fun, there are a few rioters. But we have made them be on the street, partly it is our fault,” he thinks, referring to the closure of the premises.
Faced with this argument that the arrival of travelers is inevitable, the infectious disease specialist at the University of Miami reiterates the importance of not relaxing precautionary measures, even if they are not required by law.
“I know there are no restrictions in restaurants and other places, but we have to be aware, wear a mask, keep a distance of two or three meters and avoid crowds,” he concludes.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.