(SS) Spring break may be in full swing, but now it’s getting a buzz-killing dose of coronavirus reality. Both Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, where spring breakers were expected to flood into town through early April, are closing their beaches in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Both cities are also ordering bars and restaurants to close by 10 p.m. and cap crowds at 250 people to get a grip on the pandemic.“We cannot become a petri dish for a very dangerous virus,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said Sunday during a joint news conference at Miami Beach City Hall. “Spring break is over. The party is over.” Fort Lauderdale beach — the sandy section — will be closed from Harbor Drive north to Oakland Park Boulevard. Miami Beach will close the beach from Fifth Street to 15th Street —the uber trendy section known as South Beach. Even its public parking garages will close and an 11 p.m. curfew will be strictly enforced.
Fort Lauderdale’s rules are in effect now through April 12. Miami Beach officials say their regulations will remain in effect until March 19 and might continue beyond that if necessary.Violators can risk a $500 fine or 60 days in jail. “We clearly want to encourage voluntary compliance, but we could arrest or issue notices to appear if necessary,” Fort Lauderdale City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said.
Gelber and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said the two cities worked together on coming up with a plan so that any new rules enforced by one city would not send a crush of spring breakers to the other one. “We have to do everything we can to minimize crowds and stop further cases of COVID-19,” Trantalis said. “We have to do everything possible to minimize crowds and unfortunately, our beautiful beaches must be part of that plan. I want to be clear that this is not an overreaction, but a way for us to help stop further cases of COVID-19 in our community.
We must all do our part to save lives. This includes protecting our residents, visitors and our first responders.” Gelber had a message for spring breakers who have been descending en masse on South Beach: “You have a mother, you have a grandmother and maybe a great-grandmother. That virus can be extremely dangerous to them.” The two mayors announced the measures as the number of new cases in Florida keeps growing and is expected to continue to increase over the next couple months, experts say. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he applauds Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach’s decision to “pull the plug” on large spring break gatherings. “Florida is not going to be a place where you are going to be out until 2 a.m. with 500 people in some bar,” DeSantis said. “Those gatherings present high risks.”
Although younger people are not high risk from the disease, they can carry the virus to vulnerable people, he said. DeSantis said bars and restaurants are not being ordered to close tonight to protect public health, but he will be reviewing guidance Monday morning that will be issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Friday, Trantalis called a state of emergency in response to the spreading virus, canceling all city events and meetings for the next 30 days, through April 12. The following events in Fort Lauderdale are postponed: • All meetings of the commission and city boards, including advisory boards, city committees and City working groups;
All special magistrate, code enforcement, board of adjustment and nuisance abatement board hearings; • All homeowners association and civic association meetings held on city property; All city events and city-approved events; and • All city recreational programs, facility rentals, pools and organized sports leagues. Parks facilities and community centers remain open during normal business hours; however, all programming is postponed. In addition, all organized public gatherings must now be capped at 250 people, Trantalis said. Exemptions include grocery stores and land or facilities managed by Broward County, the Broward County School District, the North Broward Hospital District, the state or federal government, as well as hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Fort Lauderdale is requiring every public place, including all businesses, restaurants, bars and retail shops to have alcohol-based hand sanitizer at every entrance. Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy says he got a call from Trantalis on Sunday before the news conference to let him know what was happening. “Hollywood beach has not experienced the ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ spring break crowds seen in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach,” Levy said. “People have been spread out on our sandy beach. Nonetheless, the county’s situation with COVID-19 is evolving daily, and we will need to do whatever necessary to protect the public from putting themselves at greater risk of contracting the virus.” Levy declined to say whether Hollywood might consider closing its beach. Staff writer Skyler Swisher contributed to this report.