MIAMI BEACH (Reuters) - In Florida, sun-soaked Miami Beach shut down its spring break party this week, declaring it illegal for more than 10 people to gather together and shutting its bars and restaurants in an effort to stymie the spread of the coronavirus.
The move there and in nearby Fort Lauderdale was the latest sign of U.S. cities struggling to cope with a pandemic sweeping across the nation.
“It’s so weird, we didn’t think it was going to get this bad,” said Jay Jones, a 22-year-old student from Drexel University in Philadelphia who was walking around Miami Beach. “At least I’m still in warm weather though, so whatever, I’ll just hang out in the hotel and flex. I’m staying for the rest of my trip.”
Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale set up barricades blocking access to public beaches. Police cars were stationed behind the dunes and police officers on ATVs and bicycles were out in force to monitor traffic and crowds.
The mayors of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale said they would issue fines for anyone breaking the restrictions and did not rule out the possibility of arrests.
“Closing our public beaches was without precedent, but necessary,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said.
Illustrating the threat to the community, he announced that three elderly people at nursing homes had died, with one death confirmed to be coronavirus and two others suspected.
The decision was particularly painful for small businesses that rely on spring break tourists for a windfall.
Restaurants in South Beach were open and somewhat busy earlier Tuesday, ahead of orders to close by 11 p.m. Patios were packed with diners and college students chased away hangovers with cups of coffee while coming to the realization that the vacation they planned is over.
In Fort Lauderdale restaurants, bars and other businesses closed at 5 p.m.
Over at South Padre Island in Texas – a sliver of land connected to the continent by a 2-mile-long bridge and where upward of 50,000 students descend on a town of less than 3,000 residents each year – restrictions were looser.
The beaches were not closed and students did not have much to fear from flaunting any rules.
“Are we lining people up and pushing them off the beach? No,” said Nikki Soto, a city spokeswoman. “We’re recommending they not start a beach party, but nobody will be ticketed. There is no quarantine, no lockdown here. But it’s been a very slow spring break.”
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami Beach and Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Scott Malone