Many universities across the United States have scheduled spring break in mid-March for 2021, implying Florida could receive an influx of tourists to and around Tampa Bay. With the potential influx of out-of-state visitors, restrictions must be put in place to prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Tampa International Airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps told WTSP on March 1 that in the coming days, the airport is expected to receive an average of 40,000 to 60,000 passengers entering the state.
Students from across the country come to Clearwater Beach and St. Pete for their weeklong break. Even though the spring breakers could help Florida’s economy, local and state authorities should put in place precautions, such as beach and restaurant limits, to prevent further outbreaks of COVID-19.
Store owners can enforce indoor masks and limit the number of customers entering their stores at the same time, but currently masks are not required on public beaches and on the street. Officials have only heightened hope that tourists to Tampa will wear masks at the appropriate times.
“The best we can do is try to reinforce the right behaviors,” USF epidemiologist Jason Salemi told the Tampa Bay Times on March 1. “Unfortunately, I think a lot is out of our control.”
Hope, however, is not a sure preventive measure.
The same requests were made to Spring Breakers in March 2020, but revelers continually ignored them. Clearwater Beach was packed, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked people to gather in groups of no more than 10 people.
After spring break was all but canceled at the end of March, Florida recorded more than 6,000 cases of COVID-19, having started the month with just three, according to a daily report from the official website of the ‘State of Florida.
If the limits are strictly enforced by law enforcement, beach patrons will be more likely to minimize the big-ticket events that are sure to ensue.
The most important limitation to put in place is a maximum number of people allowed on Hillsborough and Pinellas beaches at a time. The CDC currently allows beach managers and local health officials to implement recommended guidelines as they see fit.
Recommended precautions are to stand at least 6 feet away, wear masks, and avoid crowds. More effectively, tourists should avoid the three Cs of CDC – crowds, closed spaces, and close conversations.
Some Hillsborough County beaches are closed, but Clearwater and St. Petersburg beaches in Pinellas County are open, according to the official Pinellas County website.
Local government officials like Pinellas County Parks and Recreation Director Matt Bale and his Hillsborough County counterpart Rick Valdez have the power to build capacity for beaches and other public spaces. They must act immediately before the spring breakers arrive in the Tampa Bay area.
Another useful precaution would be to limit the capacity of restaurants and bars within Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Currently, bars and restaurants in Florida are allowed to operate at full capacity, which was announced in September at a press conference by Governor Ron DeSantis.
However, Florida is still in a state of emergency, which gives DeSantis the power to build capacity for restaurants, bars, and stores.
During the first two phases of COVID-19 precautions in Florida, restaurants and bars could only provide customers with delivery, take-out, or outdoor seating. The governor should strengthen this rule in counties where spring breakers are most common, such as Hillsborough, Pinellas and Broward.
Limiting bars, restaurants, and beaches could hurt Florida’s economy, as much of the state’s economy relies on tourism. In 2018, out-of-state visitors spent an estimated $ 94 billion while visiting Florida, according to market research organization Rocket Business Intelligence and Analytics. However, due to the pandemic, Florida’s tourism industry saw a 34% drop in profits in 2020, according to Visit Florida.
On the other hand, limiting the capacity of these places will allow tourists to participate in spring break and bring money to the state without increasing COVID-19 cases as much as they did in March. 2020. Preventing tourists and Florida residents from contracting COVID-19 is far more important than the quality of tourists’ spring break experiences.
By putting limits on beaches and restaurants, Florida’s rulers will prove they value their people more than their budget.
Florida state and local authorities must take action and prevent spring breakers from creating large crowds that could result in mass-market events by limiting the capacity of beaches and restaurants. The citizens of Florida cannot avoid contracting COVID-19 by simply trusting tourists who have historically been oblivious to protecting themselves and our residents.