Local officials feared that the crowds would impede efforts to drive down Covid-19 cases
Packs of raucous spring breakers led the city of Miami Beach to declare a state of emergency Saturday as local officials feared the gatherings would lead to escalating violence and impede efforts to drive down Covid-19 cases.
Visitors from around the world—beyond the usual college crowd—have descended on the well-known party location in recent weeks, officials said Sunday. Local police have made more than 1,000 arrests since Feb. 3 and seized more than 80 firearms, Interim City Manager Raul J. Aguila said at an emergency meeting held Sunday afternoon.
The tourists are “coming into the city to engage in lawlessness, and an anything-goes party attitude,” he said.
After seeing thousands gather Friday in a scene he described as looking like a rock concert, Mr. Aguila on Saturday imposed a mandatory 8 p.m. curfew in an area of the city declared a “high-impact zone.” The city also shut down overnight access to some causeways that lead to the barrier island, known for its stylish hotels and bustling nightlife. Mr. Aguila also closed Ocean Drive, the city’s main strip, to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, except for residents, hotel guests, and employees.
Sidewalk-cafe operations in the zone also were suspended, and restaurants were restricted to takeout only until midnight, according to the emergency order.
Miami Beach officials had braced for an influx of spring breakers and implemented increased restrictions from Feb. 22 to April 12, but the measures didn’t stop tourists from flooding in and amassing at large parties.
On Twitter and Facebook, Miami Beach police shared photos of themselves enforcing the orders. Still, other social media users on Saturday night and Sunday morning posted photos of immense crowds continuing to party and running from police.
“It certainly has felt like our city has been a tinder over the last few weeks.”
— Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber
The number of firearms police have encountered during arrests has “been alarming,” Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements said at Sunday’s meeting. Several stampedes have erupted, Mr. Clements said, one caused by someone firing a gun in the air “for no reason other than to fire it.” Less than half of the arrests have been Florida residents, he said.
Florida is one of the earliest states to reopen after the Covid-19 pandemic shut down much of the U.S. Restaurants were permitted to return to full occupancy in September. But Miami has grappled with high Covid-19 cases and the effects of tourism.
As of this week, Miami-Dade County had the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases per capita in Florida, with 16,000 new cases over the past 14 days in a total population of 2.7 million. The county has logged over 5,700 deaths since the pandemic began.
“It certainly has felt like our city has been a tinder over the last few weeks,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said at the emergency meeting Sunday, noting that they wanted to impose the curfew before any serious violence happened.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has spoken out against widespread shutdowns that took place in many states, saying the lockdowns failed to stop the virus but caused societal damage.
The state reopened schools in August, one of the earliest to do so. Since then, Florida schools have avoided major Covid-19 outbreaks and recorded case rates lower than in the wider community.
Some teachers unions opposed the reopening and unsuccessfully sued to block the move. One union, the Florida Education Association, has tracked 41 working school employees who have died of Covid-19 since summer and nine school-age children who have died from the virus over the course of the pandemic.