Throngs of maskless, hard-partying spring break crowds were once again forced out of Miami Beach’s streets Saturday night after the city declared a state of emergency amid fears of a dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber announced an 8 p.m. curfew for the downtown “entertainment district” and restrictions on shore-bound traffic for 72 hours as officials weigh what to do next at an emergency City Council meeting on Sunday.
Video posted on Twitter appeared to show partygoers drinking from open containers and dancing on top of cars. Other footage showed people being tackled by police and mobs of people scrambling from pepper balls fired at them after the curfew was announced.
Police and cruisers were posted at emptied streets to turn back any new traffic. Authorities ultimately were able to clear the streets. The Miami Beach Police Department, just before 10 p.m., tweeted an aerial photo of a cleared Ocean Drive that had been swarmed with partiers shortly before.
Hours earlier, Gelber complained at an afternoon press conference that “at night, there is no question that it becomes a place that feels ... out of control. You see things that you realize shouldn’t happen, and no community should have to endure.”
Earlier this week Gelber issued a message to spring breakers that they weren’t worth the revenue they bring to local businesses. “You cannot pay our community to endure the kind of inappropriate and improper conduct that we’ve been seeing,” he said.
“We are quite simply overwhelmed,” City Manager Raul Aquila said at the press conference. He said crowds were turning downtown Miami Beach into a “rock concert, You couldn’t see pavement and you couldn’t see grass,” he added.
Police have made hundreds of arrests and used pepper balls to break up a huge brawl Friday night at a local restaurant. The popular Clevelander South Beach hotel also announced Friday that it was shutting down its bar and restaurant at least until Wednesday because of the crush of the crowds.
“One reason for our prominence and long-standing reputation has been our focus on the safety and well-being of our staff and patrons,” the hotel said in a statement. “Recently, we have grown increasingly concerned with the safety of our dedicated employees and valued customers and the ability of the City to maintain a safe environment in the surrounding area.”
The state has already wracked up 2 million cases of COVID-19, and more than 33,000 deaths. Florida has long been lax on health restrictions that could stem the spread of COVID-19. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was one of the last to impose business restrictions after the pandemic was declared, and among the first to lift them.
He joined in the spring revelry last Wednesday at a packed Jacksonville bar to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In several photos circulating online, no one was seen in masks or socially distancing, clearly including DeSantis. Culhane’s Irish Pub touted the governor’s visit with Instagram photos that have since been taken down.
Pub co-owner Mary Jane Culhane told a local newspaper on St. Patrick’s Day: “It’s a big day for the Irish. There’s no need to stay at home today as long as you wear your mask, clean your hands. We can do this safely.” She added: “We’re very, very vigilant about keeping six feet apart from strangers.”
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