Citing crowds, violence, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Miami Beach city officials declared a state of emergency and issued a curfew for the thousands of people who have crowded into the famed party town for spring break festivities.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber issued the order on Saturday, after several days in which revelers got into fights in the popular spring break destination’s streets and eateries, and as thousands of people were crowding onto beaches and nightlife locations.
Gelber told USA Today that the decision was caused by “a confluence of challenging circumstances.”
“It’s like a triple threat: We’ve got too many people, too many coming with a desire to go wild and we have the virus,” Gelber said. “It really poses a multifaceted peril for us.”
The curfew will be in place for at least 72 hours, and requires all businesses to close at 8 pm. It also creates a “High Impact Zone” — an area most affected by the crowding and brawling — within which several roads will be closed overnight as well. Miami Beach interim city manager Raul Aguila told the Miami Herald that he recommends keeping the rules in place through at least April 12.
The order comes in addition to the Covid-19 state of emergency that has been in place in the city for a year, as well as a countywide midnight curfew.
“At the peak of spring break, we are quite simply overwhelmed in the entertainment district,” Aguila said at a news conference on Saturday. “Folks, this is not an easy decision to make, we are doing that to protect the public health and safety.”
While Miami Beach has taken its own local precautions against the coronavirus, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, lifted most restrictions statewide in September, and limited the extent to which local governments could enforce tighter restrictions, including mask mandates and lockdowns. As a result, Florida has seen much more normal activity than elsewhere in the country, with businesses and schools largely open.
But in Miami Beach, officials and residents say the last few weeks have brought a new level of chaos. According to USA Today, local police made 163 arrests over seven days.
According to local news reports, the Clevelander Hotel, a popular party spot, will close its restaurant and bar for several days after fights broke out. Last week, 150 partiers were arrested at a party that turned riotous at the Kantina Restaurant, according to NBC Miami. And an employee of the Social Club, a restaurant and bar next to the Clevelander, described a “stampede” that led to property being trashed.
“Last weekend there was a stampede very close to us and people spilled onto our property, running inside, into the restaurant, into our kitchen, into our lobby,” Jessica Francos, vice president of operations for Jesta Hotels, told the Miami Herald. “We’ve seen the situation getting out of control and then yesterday it happened again.”
CNN reported on Sunday that “at least a dozen” people had been arrested following the start of the curfew. And the Daily Beast reported that SWAT teams and pepper spray were deployed to break up street parties on Saturday night.
There are concerns spring break festivities may have a negative public health impact
The situation in Miami Beach comes as a new and more fatal variant of Covid-19, known as B.1.1.7, has begun emerging across Florida, where more than 32,000 residents have died from the virus.
First detected in the United Kingdom, B.1.1.7 is more contagious and, according to two recent studies, more fatal among people over the age of 30.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, at least 41 of the state’s 67 counties have been infected with a mutated strain of Covid-19, and there have been hundreds of variant cases in south Florida, including at least 129 in Miami-Dade. Most of the state’s 912 variant cases are from the B.1.1.7 strain, that paper reports.
According to the New York Times, Florida may have the densest share of B.1.1.7 cases in the United States, with about 30 percent of all coronavirus cases being caused by that strain. This has not led to a surge in total new coronavirus cases overall, the Times notes.
“I’ve been watching Florida closely, which has the highest share of B.1.1.7.,” Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told the Times. “Case counts have plateaued there in recent days but are not resurging. The longer we can hold the line, the more time we have to roll out vaccines, which will protect individuals, particularly those at highest risk of severe illness, and slow transmission over all.”
But Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that plateaus in cases could cause people to become complacent, especially as the vaccine rollout has created new optimism among many Americans.
“History has shown us that when you have that plateauing, that’s usually the forerunner of another surge,” he told Today, pointing to recent surges in Europe that have led to new lockdown orders in France and Poland, and tighter restrictions in Italy and Hungary.
“If we can just hang on a bit longer, the more people get vaccinated, the less likelihood that there is going to be a surge,” Fauci said.
On Friday, Fauci said during a White House press briefing that existing vaccines appear to protect people against the strain, but cautioned that people still needed to exercise standard avoidance measures.
“The way we can counter [B.1.1.7], which is a growing threat in our country, is to do two things: To get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible with the vaccine that we know works against this variant and, finally, to implement the public health measures that we talk about all the time … masking, physical distancing, and avoiding congregant settings, particularly indoors,” he said.