Duval County Beaches reopen Friday under new rules. Gov. DeSantis’ delayed response may have helped spread the virus, but has the lesson not been learned?
After facing criticism for keeping the beaches open to Spring Breakers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is reportedly in talks with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry about re-opening the city. Curry said he doesn’t know when state and local restrictions on businesses will be lifted, but he added that data on local positive cases and hospitalizations suggest the city is succeeding in flattening the curve of the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, as has been repeatedly pointed out by health advocates, the state is not reporting all of the positive results due to its huge coronavirus testing backlog, 90% of which are from private labs that the state may take weeks to add to its official count.
Still, Duval County beaches will re-open at 5 p.m. Friday under new rules that will limit access to mornings and evenings to people participating in what the mayor called “essential activities”. These include “walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing.” Gatherings of 50 or more people will remain prohibited and people must maintain “social distancing.”
But was the lesson from Spring Break learned?
With South Florida being a magnet for tourism from all over the world, and spring breakers visiting from all around the country, the potential for becoming a hot zone for the virus was evident. So when March rolled around and spring breakers started flocking into the state, alarms were sounded.
Yet, despite numerous warnings from city officials, including Senator Rick Scott, and experts from around the country, state Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to close the beaches. One of Donald Trump’s staunchest allies left it up to city officials to take action, explaining that he didn’t want to issue a statewide order because there were places where the virus had not yet spread. Instead, DeSantis ordered bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days and restaurants to cut their seating capacity by half. Beaches could remain open, but groups of more than 10 people would not be allowed in one place. But the order wasn’t enforced and thousands of young revelers, fueled by alcohol, flocked to the beaches with, as one partygoer expressed, a “que será, será” attitude: “If I get corona, I get corona.”
Tracking the Spread
But did Florida’s lack of action potentially help spread this virus to other parts of the country or even the world? Tectonix, a company dedicated to fast data analysis, used their system to analyze data of one beach in Ft Lauderdale over a period of two weeks, tracking the students’ electronic devices to find out where those devices went before and after spring break.
The evidence shows that the spring breakers left Ft Lauderdale for destinations all across the state and the nation. Additional data by location data firm X-Mode Social further fills in the picture, showing 5,000 devices at one Fort Lauderdale beach in mid-March and, in the week that follows, tracks those devices, many possibly owned by spring breakers, as they travel across the Eastern U.S. This includes New York, which has become the epicenter of the crisis.
Gregg Gonsalves, a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, called the situation “nothing short of tragic.”
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But these are tragedies that can be prevented by following the social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home-orders, as well as by adhering to hygiene recommendations. Even more importantly, elected officials need to set the standards. And to enforce the laws preemptively.
“After dealing with the pandemic that could have been incredibly dangerous and affected the world, Ebola, we set up an entire mechanism [in 2016] of how to deal with future outbreaks of pandemic diseases,” said the ex vice president under the Obama administration and 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden, noting that the Trump administration “eliminated that office when they came in play.”