Florida spring break: Crowds flock to South Florida while some residents worry about another Covid-19 surge

(CNN) – Veronica Pena says she’s been carefully navigating the Covida 19 pandemic for the past year, primarily in the state of Florida, without any restrictions. This Miami Beach resident no longer goes to bars, gets tested regularly, and has a circle of friends she hangs out with who are just as cautious as she is.

As she waits for the Covid 19 vaccine, Ms. Pena faces a new limitation on her independence: She won’t venture near areas like South Beach, where spring breakers, often unmasked, flock in search of carefree recreation – and an escape from the restrictions still in place in other parts of the country.

I don’t see anyone taking precautions, Pena, 32, told CNN. Nobody wears a mask, nobody runs away from society.

Photos taken during spring break in South Florida suggest the deadly virus is still rampant in the country. According to Johns Hopkins University, an average of about 54,600 new cases and more than 1,000 deaths related to the virus were reported per day in the United States last week.

Visitors from all over the United States flock to the state’s most popular beaches during the day and mingle in the bars and restaurants at night. About 100 people were arrested in Miami Beach last weekend after police responded to an unruly crowd, local authorities said.

You see these images of people crowding into bars, for example, mostly inside, with no masks, almost no physical distance, said Cindy Prince, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida. This unfortunately creates the perfect situation for Covid to pass.

The crowds don’t seem to be abating, and the Miami Beach police chief says the number of visitors has increased in recent weeks – a trend that is expected to continue through April.

Pena isn’t just worried about contracting the virus herself. Like local officials and experts, she fears the mob will further disrupt and destroy her community and her country, something she experienced firsthand when she lost her grandmother to the virus in October.

I fear more deaths because I witnessed and was one of Covid’s victims, she said. We are losing people left and right through carelessness and negligence.

CNN spoke with South Floridians who expressed similar concerns, adding that they understand the difficult choices government leaders are making as they try to balance the desire for a healthy economy with public safety. But several residents said they would like to see the state welcome visitors more safely, with stricter rules.

People are enjoying their vacation on Ocean Drive at 19. March 2021 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Joe Redl/Getty Images

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Emily Arcia, who lives in Miami, said that for months she only left the house when absolutely necessary and walked on the beach with her husband – and only after outfitting herself with masks and gloves.

While she is fully vaccinated, her husband has just been vaccinated for the first time, and going outside – especially now – makes the couple nervous again.

I live right by the ocean, next to the park, and there are a lot of people, said Arsha, 66. I don’t even go down on Saturday and Sunday because it’s too crowded.

When incidents broke out in the Covid-19 community, she heard the first aid sirens from her balcony – much more often than usual. It was the mark she feared would come back to life.

I have no idea what can be done to prevent what I think will be an eyesore, she said. I’m hoping that the number of vaccines that are…. assuming it’s balanced somehow. But, you know, it doesn’t look good.

And the state is not alone in seeing the consequences.

It’s not just about what’s happening in Florida, says Dr. Lina Wen, an emergency physician. It’s about what happens when people go back to where they came from and become asymptomatic carriers who can transmit the virus to other vulnerable people.

The return of spring breakers, she says, could lead to higher fuel consumption across the country.

About 12 percent of Florida’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. In the United States, approximately 13% of the population is fully vaccinated.

A large crowd attends a party on the boardwalk near the beach during Spring Break in Miami Beach on the 20th. March 2021.

Cristobal Herrera-Ulaszkiewicz/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Local leaders fear that progress is being lost

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Florida has seen more than 2 million infections and more than 32,700 deaths from the virus.

Local leaders in the state decided to impose their own restrictions, including curfews and balaclavas. But a few days ago, DeSantis signed an executive order to cancel all pandemic-related fines collected by local municipalities between January 1 and the end of the year. March and the 10th. March 2021 have been published.

Some Florida officials say it’s been a long, hard road to get their Covid 19 numbers in the right direction. They fear that careless holidaymakers – combined with the highly infectious variants currently circulating and the still small number of fully vaccinated residents – could undo this progress.

A general view of the Elbo Hall Folk Festival in Fort Lauderdale Beach on the 14th. March 2021.

Larry Marano/Shutterstock

We spent a lot of time and energy establishing all the key parameters, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told CNN on Thursday. Obviously, spring break brings with it an influx of tourists, and they may not think as conscientiously as people who stay behind and have to deal with the consequences later.

Gelber, in Miami Beach, is also shocked. We have too many people who just want to release unacceptable ways, and we have a pandemic, including, I think really the purpose of this option, he said recently.

This variant – B.1.1.7 – already accounts for about 20 to 30 percent of all current infections in the country, and that number is rising, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s chief infectious disease expert, said Friday, adding that this is likely due to the increasing severity of the disease. Other recent studies suggest that this option may also be associated with a higher risk of death from covidia-19.

The state with the highest number of reported cases of this variant is Florida, according to the CDC.

And experts, including Wen, warned that if infection rates remain high while the country works to vaccinate more Americans, the virus will likely continue to mutate and more dangerous variants could emerge that are not only more transmissible but also pose a problem for vaccines.

So as the community grows, these options can grow, and that can really work against us, Wen said.

CNN’s Travis Caldwell contributed to this report.

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