The deluge of college students that flood into Florida each year for spring break is such a regular occurrence that they’ve become something of a seasonal indicator. The grass turns green, the birds return, the daffodils bloom – and the best and brightest of America’s universities take body shots on Florida beaches.
But while the grass will turn green, the birds will return and the flowers will bloom in 2020, the fate of spring break remains uncertain. In the wake of the spread of the coronavirus, municipalities have closed Florida’s largest and most popular beaches in Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa – and Governor Rick DeSantis faces mounting pressure from various corners to extend the ban statewide and shut down spring break completely.
The governor has thus far resisted those calls, noting on Tuesday (March 17) that it is "not uniform throughout the state that you're seeing massive crowds at beaches," despite reports and images of college students packing the sand and carrying on the business of partying as usual. DeSantis has, however, limited beach-based gatherings to 10 people or less, noting that all beachgoers must be properly spaced by six feet, and has closed bars and restricted restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity. The goal, he noted, is to shut down spring break by giving it no place to go.
And by some accounts, it is having an impact, as evidenced by some severely bummed-out revelers in Miami who are bemoaning the closure of South Beach.
"It's really messing up my spring break. What is there to do here other than go to bars or the beach? And they're closing all of it," a woman named Brianna Leeder said in a CBS News video.
Still, as reporters have talked to spring breakers crowding onto still-open beaches and events across Florida, there does seem to be a growing streak of defiance, as an increasing number of college students make it clear they are willing to fight for their right to party. A recurring theme in various media is a relative lack of concern about COVID-19 and a basic unwillingness to resign themselves to a spring breakless 2020.
One student who spoke to reporters in Miami more or less summed up the attitude of the spring breakers who have simply decided to ignore CDC guidance on social distancing:
"If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I'm not going to let it stop me from partying,” Brady Sluder noted.
And that attitude has been of increasing concern among epidemic watchers observing Florida, where the cases have officially crossed the 400 mark as of the close of the week.
"There is concern when you have hundreds and hundreds of kids gathering like that," DeSantis said this week before warning the still-partying spring breakers that the virus is "not something to be very cavalier about."
Florida Senator Rich Scott, who was formerly the state’s governor, was somewhat less diplomatic in his remarks about the revelers who continue to eat, drink and make merry with insufficient concern about who might die tomorrow.
"Get off the beach," he told CNN bluntly on Thursday (March 19). "Every, every level of government has to be very clear: Don't be on the beach unless you can be somehow completely by yourself."
But if the pictures floating across media and Instagram are an accurate indication, going to the beach alone doesn’t seem to be on the agenda of many of the spring breakers flooding Florida’s still-open shoreline.
Florida’s beaches are a $40 billion contributor to the state’s economy, which has already been hit hard by the theme park closures, decimated travel industry and restaurant and bar closures. The state is likely hesitant to completely seal yet another revenue source. But what if the spring breakers won’t disperse and infection rates start to spike? We’ve already seen all over the world how fast partial closures can become full shut-downs.