Several of the state's coastal cities closed their beaches over the weekend to contain the spread of the virus

By Claudia Harmata
March 17, 2020 04:25 PM

Despite growing concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the recommendation from health and government officials to practice social distancing, many Florida beaches are still packed with people.

The Clearwater Beach in West Florida saw many arriving for spring break vacations. Several images of sunbathers went viral on Twitter after local ABC reporter Sarah J. Hollenbeck shared photos of the packed coast on Monday.

“BUSY BEACH! This is what @MyClearwater Beach looks like right now as spring break crowds flock to the sand,” she shared.

According to Hollenbeck, Clearwater officials plan to vote on potential restrictions to be put on the beach this Thursday, March 19, amid growing coronavirus concerns.

Footage from Naples, Florida, (above) shows a similar scene of vacationers filling the swath of sand.

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Chris O'Meara/AP/Shutterstock
Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post via ZUMA

While Clearwater is waiting to make any decisions, both Ft. Lauderdale and Miami announced on Sunday that they would be completely closing their beaches to combat the spread, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Fort Lauderdale’s closure is in effect through April 12, while Miami Beach officials said theirs will remain in effect until March 19, at which point it may be extended.

Other cities in South Florida followed suit and closed their beaches, including Hollywood, Dania Beach and Hallandale Beach.

“We cannot become a petri dish for a very dangerous virus,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said on Sunday, according to the Sentinel. “Spring break is over. The party is over.”

Gelber and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis reportedly worked together, to make sure that the new rules would not send a mass of spring breakers from one city to the other, as the cities are less than an hour apart.

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Chris O'Meara/AP/Shutterstock
Chris O'Meara/AP/Shutterstock

“We have to do everything we can to minimize crowds and stop further cases of COVID-19,” Trantalis said, according to the Sentinel. “We have to do everything possible to minimize crowds and unfortunately, our beautiful beaches must be part of that plan.”

“I want to be clear that this is not an overreaction, but a way for us to help stop further cases of COVID-19 in our community. We must all do our part to save lives,” he added. “This includes protecting our residents, visitors and our first responders.”

On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shutdown all bars and nightclubs for 30 days, according to several reports. He additionally ordered a limit of 10 people at beach gatherings and restricted restaurant occupancy to 50 percent, the Herald Tribune reported.

“Florida is not going to be a place where you are going to be out until 2 a.m. with 500 people in some bar,” DeSantis had said prior to his decision. “Those gatherings present high risks.”

The announcement came as Florida’s confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 192 on Tuesday. The state has also reported 5 deaths from the virus. The state also has a very large elderly population, a group the CDC has said are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

In the U.S. as a whole, there have been at least 5,002 confirmed cases and 93 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon, March 17, according to a New York Times database.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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