Coronavirus National Emergency: Florida Closes Beaches to Keep Spring Breakers Home Amid Pandemic

Local Florida officials have closed beaches throughout the state during the coronavirus outbreak, even as young people on spring break head to the Sunshine State. Gov. Ron DeSantis has come under criticism for not issuing a state-wide order closing the beaches, leaving mayors to make the decision themselves. This resulted in viral videos showing groups of people gathering at beaches, even as officials ask people to avoid large gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.

On Tuesday, footage of spring breakers packed together in groups on Clearwater Beach went viral, showing people ignoring the CDC's recommendation that people stay six feet apart. Clearwater officials quickly responded Wednesday by ordering public beaches to be closed for two weeks, starting on March 23 at 6 a.m. ET, reports CBS News. Cocoa Beach also announced "beachside parks and beachside public parking areas" will be closed indefinitely, beginning Friday.

Lee County in Southwest Florida closed county-owned beaches and the Fort Myers Beach Pier starting at 6 p.m. ET Thursday. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber announced Wednesday all public beaches will be closed, starting Thursday.

"Tomorrow, countywide, new measures will take effect that include closure of all beaches, parks, additional recreational venues and many businesses," Gelber wrote on Facebook. "For our City and community I believe these, though painful, were necessary steps and I let County Mayor Gimenez know I supported them earlier today. Our hope is that these extraordinary measures will bring a swifter end to the impact of this deadly virus. I appreciate the understanding of our residents and fully believe we will emerge from this stronger and more united. My thoughts are with those that feel the brunt of this dislocation most acutely and we will do everything we can to advocate for relief. Stay healthy."

Before the beaches were closed, spring breakers complained to reporters, suggesting officials were taking things out of proportion.

"If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying," Brady Sluder of Ohio told a reporter in an interview seen more than 31.8 million times on Twitter. "We've been waiting for Miami spring break for a while, about two months we’ve had this trip planned. We're just out here having a good time. Whatever happens, happens."

"It's really messing up with my spring break," Brianna Leeder of Wisconsin told Reuters. "What is there to do here other than go to the bars or the beach? And they’re closing all of it."

For several days, DeSantis was criticised for not closing the beaches statewide. In a Thursday press conference, he said he did issue an order barring gatherings of 10 or more people and suggested more people do "social distancing." He also supported local governments closing their beaches. The governor previously ordered all bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days.

"I just spoke to the U.S. surgeon general about it. Here's the thing," DeSantis said Thursday. "They want you to social distance, of course. But they actually encourage people to get fresh air. They just don’t want you congregating in big groups. And so if you have a Floridian that goes and walks their dog, like a married couple on the beach, as long as you're not within six feet of each other, they view that as a healthy thing."

While on Fox & Friends Thursday, DeSantis was more blunt, directly telling spring breakers "the party's over in Florida."

"The bars are closed so you're not going to have a place to congregate there, so we would just tell those folks maybe come back next year when things are better, but that is not what we’re looking for here in the state of Florida,," he said. "Every single beach will have to abide by the CDC guidelines, no more than 10 people, you have to be socially distant, not every beach is going to remain open, but some will."

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On Thursday night, the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida jumped to 432, reports Click Orlando. Nine deaths have been reported.

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