Beach communities prepare for spring breakers amid pandemic
Despite the CDC advising Americans not to travel, thousands are expected to flock to spring break havens across the sunbelt this spring.
Every year, thousands of Americans choose to flee the cold and head south to sunbelt communities for spring break. Even in the midst of a pandemic, that pilgrimage is already taking shape in 2021.
Steve Hayes is the CEO and President of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater in Florida, and told Fox News while they’re not expecting to see as many folks as 2019 (or any year before the pandemic) they are anticipating a surge of northerners to occupy their beaches.
“It is going to be much better than we saw in 2020,” said Hayes. “You’re still going to have lots of folks coming down whether it’s day trips from the surrounding area, or [they’re] coming on a complete vacation from the Northeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, wherever.”
For Beth Falls of Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, she and her family chose to trade their snow shovels for flip-flops. Joined by a few other families from their hometown, she says the trip was much needed to take their minds off off the world for a change.
“[We’re here for a] getaway, fresh air and warmth!” Falls gleefully told Fox News.
Her Wisconsin crew isn’t alone, however, as thousands more are expected to make their way to traditional getaway spots like South Padre Island, Texas, Gulf Shores, Alabama, and a bevy of Florida cities.
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For Hayes, it’s a welcome sight. Tourism remains the number one industry in the Sunshine State, and local beach communities have been feeling the pain of the pandemic.
Even so, he stresses the importance of safety.
“Hey, you’re welcome to visit our community,” said Hayes. “We’re so glad that you’re going to invest your time and resources in our communities. But at the same time, we want to have this going forward, and so we ask you to follow some of the policies we have here for the protection of others.”
In short, social distancing is the name of the game, according to Hayes. It’s not hard to stumble upon signs asking beachgoers to spread out along the shoreline while soaking up the sun.
But not every community is as welcoming in the age of coronavirus. Los Angeles County health officials are encouraging long-distance travelers to come again another time.
“We may just be weeks away from reducing transmission in L.A. County enough so that additional reopenings are permitted,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement last Thursday.
“However, with increased case numbers in other states, and more circulating variants of concern, spring travel can lead to another surge that frankly would be almost impossible to tolerate. Travel increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. To avoid this, please postpone travel and continue doing your part to slow the spread so that our recovery journey isn’t sidelined.”
On Friday, The Wharf Fort Lauderdale, a popular spot for visitors, posted an announcement on social media, saying it won’t admit any out-of-state spring breakers under the age of 23 in an attempt to control crowds.
The official guidance from the CDC is to avoid non-essential travel at all costs.
Dr. Jay Wolfson, Senior Associate Dean for Health Policy and Practice at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine sees it both ways, and empathized with those who’re looking to get away.
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“People really do need the break,” Wolfson told Fox News. “They need to be able to get out and do something, and if they’re in the snow or the rain or the sleet, they want to have a vacation. They want something that will take them away from the unpleasant memories of having to live through this horrible virus.”
Wolfson, however, contends despite the progress made by vaccinations and declining case numbers, the threat of coronavirus is still real for travelers, and caution is paramount.
“There are folks around them who they don’t know,” said Wolfson. “And the bubble and the protection of immunity may not be present where they’re at. While they’re coming here, and while they’re staying in their hotels and as they’re leaving, they need to be careful.”
Adding to that, the rise of variant forms of coronavirus in the last few months amplifies the potential dangers of the disease.
“We still don’t know more than we know about this disease, and with three new and powerful variants, we can only expect there may be some new spikes,” said Wolfson. “And if there aren’t, that’s fantastic. We all want to get out of this thing. But we’re not going to get out of it while the risks and the threats are still there.”
Wolfson advises anyone making the trip south to use an abundance of caution while traveling to protect both themselves and other travelers.
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That’s what Beth Falls and her group intend to do, as they enjoy the Florida sunshine.
“[While] indoors, we wear our masks. [We just] do what we can,” said Falls. “But, we’re still going to have fun.”
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