The number of coronavirus cases that involve “variants of concern” have surged in Florida since the peak of spring break.
Florida Department of Health figures show that, as of Thursday, there were 5,177 cases that involved variants of concern in the state – six times higher than what was there in mid-March, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
It has identified five variants of concern, and the Sentinel reported that all five were found in Florida in the past few weeks.
These cases put 122 people in hospital, and 31 of those have died, the Sentinel reported.
The Sentinel obtained the figures through a lawsuit it filed against the Florida Department of Health.
Zinzi Bailey, a social epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told the Sentinel that the outcome is what health experts feared.
During the annual spring break, Florida party hot spots were overrun with mainly maskless young people. Miami Beach eventually declared a state of emergency and set a curfew, and police arrested hundreds.
“This is kind of what a lot of public health folks have been afraid of, and why we’re trying to emphasize the need for continued caution as we move forward,” said Bailey.
She also said that it can’t be known for sure if the spike is directly due to spring break, or a lack of restrictions more generally, but that it looks likely.
“Whether we can link any of these rises to spring break, up to a point, we’re doing a little bit of speculation
“But from a basic logic standpoint, we would anticipate that people coming from all across the country who might be exposed to different kinds of folks, whether that’s in their hometown or in the airport, it’s always going to be a possibility.”
She said that letting the coronavirus spread could also form new, dangerous mutations to form, in addition to the ones already discovered abroad and imported.
“My biggest fear is that, if we become more lax with our masking and our social distancing, we will actually start creating our own variant.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious disease expert, blamed the surge in cases across the US at the end of March on the premature ending of restrictions in some parts of the country, including travel around spring break.
Miami’s law enforcement said earlier this month that there were large crowds in the city because people wanted to find a place with fewer restrictions.
Leaders in the Black community in South Florida are raising concerns over the way police responded to spring breakers on Miami Beach after a curfew was imposed this weekend following large crowds and chaotic behavior from tourists and partiers.
“When I saw what happened on Saturday night, the only thing I could do was shake my head in sadness and disgust,” Stephen Hunter Johnson, the chairman of the Miami-Dade Black Advisory Board, told Insider.
Many of the spring breakers in Miami Beach this year appeared to be young and Black, he said.
“My objection isn’t that Miami Beach is policing the beach,” Johnson added. “My objection is that we’re not doing it in what I think is a sensible way, given the circumstances and given the mood of the country.”
Prior to Saturday, Johnson said he didn’t mind the police response to spring breakers this year. But, he said, he was “disappointed” to hear of a curfew that was imposed by Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Officials said the curfew was imposed after spring break vacationers damaged restaurants, gathered without masks or social distancing, and fought in the streets, Insider previously reported.
It went into effect four hours later, at 8 p.m. Not long after, the Miami Beach police were blasting sound cannons and using pepper balls to disperse crowds. The tactics appeared to work. At 9:37 p.m., the crowd seemed entirely gone, according to a photo of a typically crowded intersection tweeted by police.
Glendon Hall, the chairman of Miami Beach Black Affairs Advisory Committee, told the Miami Herald on Sunday he was on the beach’s famed Ocean Drive when police arrived. He said he and some of the city’s “goodwill ambassadors” – volunteers who were helping pass out masks – were helping remove people from the street after the curfew was in effect.
He told the Herald the crowd had been calm until a Coral Gables SWAT truck arrived, which heightened tensions. A brief stampede ensued when police began to fire pepper balls at the crowd.
Johnson told Insider the images and video showing rowdy partygoers weren’t that unusual for spring break in Miami Beach. But what made matters worse this year, he said, were local COVID-19 restrictions that allowed full capacity at hotels but capped capacity at restaurants and bars to 50%.
“It’s not the first time someone’s run out on the bill at someplace on a beach during spring break,” Johnson told Insider. “It’s not the first time that people have gotten into drunk fights on spring break on the beach. It’s not even the first time that someone has danced on top of a car. That’s spring break on Miami Beach.”
But restrictions led more spring breakers to party in the streets, he said, creating some of the chaotic scenes and the headline-making viral images and videos of tightly-packed and maskless partiers standing atop cars.
Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements told the Miami Herald the police department would review the Saturday incident internally.
“I think officers felt threatened at the time,” Clements told the Herald. “There has to be an element there of either the crowd fighting or coming at officers.”
“If you spent the summer protesting police treatment of Black people nationwide, you’re going to be sensitive to police treatment of Black people while you’re on vacation,” Johnson said. “And what we don’t want – because Miami was spared some of the more disruptive protests the rest of the country experienced – is that reoccurring here on our beach.”
He said police should’ve been more prepared to disperse the crowd in a less confrontational way.
While many Miami Beach residents applauded the curfew, Connolly Graham, a member of the Miami Beach Black Affairs Advisory Committee, told the Miami Herald last week “we have to realize that we are definitely fighting an undertone of racism” in the community.
Looking toward Memorial Day, Johnson said the Miami-Dade Black Advisory Board, Miami Beach Black Affairs Advisory Committee, and the local chapter of the NAACP planned to meet with police to avoid a repeat of the Saturday incident.
“In the past, that’s exactly what the Miami Beach Police Department did,” he said. “They were very proactive. And we want to make sure that we get back to them being proactive about discussing their plan.”
Miami Beach city commissioners on Sunday extended the curfew, in effect from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday-Sunday, until April 12.
Miami Beach, Florida has extended its 8 p.m. curfew in a bustling part of the city until April 12 as the hot destination continues to see an influx of travelers “disregarding the law” during this year’s spring break season, the Miami Herald reported.
“If you are coming here with an anything-goes party attitude, change your flight reservation now and go to Vegas,” Raul Aguila, Miami Beach’s city manager previously said during a city council meeting before the travel surge, The Wall Street Journal reported. “Miami Beach is not going to tolerate anarchy.
“I have personally had trouble even sleeping at night, worrying about what’s going to happen in the city,” Dan Gelber, mayor of Miami Beach, said, according to the Washington Post.
In response to this, during an emergency meeting on Sunday, the city approved an extension on both its 8 p.m. curfew in the South Beach entertainment district and decreased causeway access to Miami Beach. These protocols will be implemented from Thursday through Sunday until the end of spring break, April 12, the Miami Herald reported.
“This is a spring break like no other,” Aguila said, according to a report from NBC News.
The city has attributed this surge of spring break visitors to three areas: reduced flight, hotel, and rental costs. In Miami specifically, hotels have been looking at 90% occupancy rates for Thursday-through-Sunday stays through the spring break season, Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, told Insider earlier this month.
As a result, Jan Freitag – the national director for hospitality market analytics at STR, a hospitality data and analytics group – predicted that Miami, and all of South Florida, will be doing “quite well” during the spring break travel season into the impending summer travel boom.
“I believe it’s a lot of pent-up demand from the pandemic and people wanting to get out,” David Richardson, a Miami Beach City Commission member, said, the New York Times reported. “And our state has been publicly advertised as being open, so that’s contributing to the issue.”
Police in Miami Beach shot pepper balls at spring break crowds that refused to abide by the city’s 8 p.m. curfew on Saturday night, local outlet WPLG reported.
Earlier on Saturday, the city of Miami Beach declared a state of emergency and set a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting that night, in response to the thousands of people who had traveled to the popular spring break destination.
Officials said Sunday the measures will remain in place for Thursday to Sunday until April 11, when the spring break crowds thin, The Washington Post reported.
“I have personally had trouble even sleeping at night, worrying about what’s going to happen in the city,” Mayor Dan Gelber said Sunday, according to The Post. “And that shouldn’t be the state of any mayor or any commissioner or any manager or any police chief.”
Police arrested at least a dozen people on Saturday after hundreds of mostly maskless tourists stayed out past the curfew, CNN reported.
Hours after the curfew was announced and went into place people were still roaming around, WPLG reported.
“At night there is no question that it became a little out of control or a lot out of control,” Gelber told the outlet.
Footage of the night from WPLG shows a stampede unfolding after police threw pepper balls into the large crowd.
Miami Beach spokeswoman Veronica Payssé told CNN last week that the state does not allow the city to fine those who violate mask orders, which she said has made it harder for police to patrol the destination.
Florida hit a new pandemic milestone of 2 million coronavirus cases on Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
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With the ongoing pandemic, many families are seeking safe domestic spring break destinations.
Airbnb is a great lodging option since it offers a socially distanced stay where families can spread out.
We found family-friendly spring break destinations across the US, plus top family rentals for each.
It’s been more than one year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended family life, changing the way kids learn, parents work, and how we all spend our leisure time. Needless to say, many American families are eagerly awaiting a change of scenery with the onset of warmer spring weather and more daylight hours. It seems, in other words, like we could all use a spring break.
AAA Travel experts advise would-be spring breakers that things will look very different than the last time many took a vacation. “The entire travel experience has been transformed by COVID-19. If you’re considering travel sometime this year, it’s more important than ever to do your due diligence ahead of any trip to ensure it is safe and enjoyable,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel.
Most families this year will be continuing to seek out safer vacation options like road trips and closer-to-home domestic getaways. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up domestic spring break ideas for families in locations where enjoying socially distant and outdoor activities is easy, from uncrowded mountain towns to beach getaways where you can have your own private boardwalk.
One other way to have a safer spring break? Choose a vacation rental instead of a standard hotel. According to HomeToGo, the world’s largest vacation rental search engine, vacation rentals for families are already up by nearly 30% over last year, and it’s easy to see why.
Vacation rentals provide an attractive option to stay in a private and spacious setting with convenient amenities like full kitchens, and fun perks like pools and game rooms. Even more importantly right now, experts and the CDC say private home rentals are safer than hotels due to the lack of interactions with any staff or other guests.
However, keep in mind that there’s still no guarantee of safety when it comes to travel right now. We always advise following CDC guidelines, practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing, and wearing a mask in public spaces. Additionally, consider your family’s risk factors and take extra precautions if you plan to travel to or from a hotspot area.
We chose top spring break destinations and family-friendly Airbnbs based on the following criteria:
All are domestic locations with plenty of outdoor family fun for a safer, socially distanced getaway.
Each rental is for the entire home, per current expert recommendations.
Every Airbnb listing has a high rating of at least 4.88 or above.
Rentals are especially great for families, with multiple bedrooms and cool, kid-friendly amenities.
We kept affordability in mind, but chose options at varying price points, ranging from $98 to $489 per night to start.
Here are the best spring break destinations in the US for families, plus where to stay at each.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
According to Trip Advisor, Tennessee is the top searched for family-friendly destination so far in 2021. And Pigeon Forge, at the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is one of the top destinations for families within the state thanks to its stunning natural areas and easy access to Dollywood and Ober Gatlinburg mountaintop ski and recreation area.
The three-story, newly built Bella Vista vacation home delivers jaw-dropping views from a double-high wall of windows. Inside, you’ll find a gourmet kitchen, a nine-seat screening room, and a 10-foot indoor climbing wall that kids will go nuts for. A game room provides even more opportunities for some friendly family competition with an air hockey table, pool table, and video games galore.
Outdoors on the multiple-level deck, you’ll also find a large private hot tub where you can literally soak up the views.
On the coast between Santa Monica and Huntington Beach, Long Beach is especially ideal for families with small children. Thanks to a breakwater off the shores here, there are no large waves, a boon for beginner swimmers. Traveling with your family’s dog? Long Beach is also home to Rosie’s Dog Beach — the only legal, off-leash dog beach in Los Angeles County.
Plus, you’ll find the newly expanded Aquarium of the Pacific here with 11,000 water creatures ranging from sharks to jellyfish.
Where to stay: Cottage one mile from the beach, $98
This shore-themed cottage close to the beach is set in a quiet neighborhood. It’s a super kid-friendly setup, and even comes equipped with a stroller and pack’n play. The kids will go wild for the private playground jungle gym set in a large sandy area in the yard.
There’s also an outdoor grill and firepit, and indoors plenty of games, books, kid-friendly kitchen gear, and even a foosball table. The beach theme is elegantly incorporated throughout the home via nautical pillows and quilts, and the bold red kitchen features a lighthouse painted over one of the shelves.
Between the Southern culture, amazing outdoor experiences like rafting down the James River — public art, and historic sites, there is something that will make every member of the family happy to explore the charming Richmond area. April is a particularly beautiful time to visit with the destination’s gardens in full bloom and miles of hiking and biking trails to traverse with kids.
Opt for a unique accommodation here, like this Trailside Trailhouse that lets families live out their “Swiss Family Robinson” dreams of camping in a tree house. Climb up into this two-story treetop abode for a memorable overnight. Relax on the outdoor decks and enjoy the rustling trees while you swing on the hammocks (or perhaps even sleep in one), or let the kids stretch out in the nest-level bunkbeds.
Another important kid highlight: There’s a slide from the first floor to get you down to ground level. Other standout features include a firepit and lawn games for when you’re not up in the trees. From this central spot by the river, you can easily explore forest trails on foot or with the bikes that are part of the rental.
You want a relaxing Florida vacation. The kids want Disney. You want to stay somewhere without crowds or COVID-19 fears. The kids want Harry Potter. You wouldn’t mind visiting Orlando very quickly, the kids want theme park availability round-the-clock. If that sounds like you, your family wants Kissimmee.
You may not know the name, but if you’ve been to the Orlando area, you’ve probably driven through this Mickey-suburb. You can get all the Central Florida sunshine, hang out by the pool, perhaps dip your toe into actual theme parks, but also enjoy some of the area’s natural wonders, like Wekiwa Springs State Park where you can kayak with manatees.
Though, if you do prefer to be closer to all the theme park action, we have Orlando Airbnb options for you too.
Kissimmee is full of cool rentals kids will adore, including this one called R U Incredible Parents. The answer will surely be yes if you book this home that’s big enough to bring the whole crew and then some. Every single room is more over-the-top themed than any of the “real” Disney or Universal properties.
There’s a Harry Potter bedroom, a Frozen room, an Avengers room, and a Mickey and Minnie-themed retro diner area for the kids to eat in. There’s even a Jurassic Park-style eigh-foot dinosaur in a cage outside that you pass on the way to your private pool.
Located three hours outside of Denver, Steamboat is a cowboy ranching town at heart and an off-the-beaten path winter destination known to many as Ski Town, U.S.A., for having produced more winter Olympians than any other spot in all of North America. Steamboat Ski Resort is renowned for its six peaks of champagne powder, and the resort stays open all the way into mid-April, so you can get your kids on the slopes for a fresh-air, snow-filled spring break.
This family chalet has spectacular views of the mountains, a huge entertaining space including a pool table, a large television lounge, a full custom bar (that you can fill with juice boxes if you’d like), and a convenient walkway out to a private hot tub with views across the valley.
The spacious sitting area features soaring wood ceilings, a cozy fireplace, and numerous plush couches for lounging. Parents will also like that the master bedroom has its own fireplace and a jetted soaking tub. The furnished deck also includes a firepit so you can warm up and roast marshmallows in the evenings.
According to Travelocity, the Gulf Coast beach town of Galveston in South Texas is one of the five most popular family vacation destinations reserved on the site so far in 2021. That’s really no surprise with its sugary white sand beaches and aqua waters. Another classic family draw is the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, which provides some old-school entertainment via carnival games and its 100-foot “Galaxy Wheel” Ferris wheel.
Where to stay: Beachfront home with private boardwalk, $193
This beachfront gem faces the Gulf and provides stunning views of the water through floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s plenty of space to spread out inside the contemporary home, and one of the bedrooms features bunkbeds just right for young kids. A fireplace, a wooden deck with lounge chairs, a massive open-concept kitchen, and a spa-like master bathroom with a deep Jacuzzi tub are all appealing amenities.
But the beach is calling, and you can get there on a private boardwalk that delivers you right from your door to the waves without ever hitting blacktop. It’s great for kids to use a scooter or skates without fear of cars getting in their way, too.
For a quintessential country getaway, it’s hard to beat the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. There are lakes for kayaking, swimming, and boating; adventure activities such as ziplining and alpine slides; small historic towns like Great Barrington with shops and farmstands; cool, kid-enticing art at Mass MoCa; and hiking along the Appalachian Trail. It’s also a great place just to relax and enjoy some quiet and fresh air.
This beautiful Berkshire family house is nestled in the woods just off the Appalachian trail. The listing features an outdoor grill and a spacious screened-in porch. The interiors have a chic cabin feel thanks to exposed wood beams, a potbelly stove, and a soaring pitched roof over the huge living area.
The sprawling wooded yard comes complete with swings, hammocks, and a firepit and offers kids plenty of room to roam in a safe environment. Even though you’ll have ample privacy, you’re only five minutes to the village with a local store, as well as a nearby swimming lake with a sandy beach and lifeguards.
History may soon repeat itself in Florida, where some beaches are already packed with spring breakers, according to CNN.
“We’re seeing too much spring break activity,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told CNN on Saturday. “We’ve got a problem with too many people coming here. We’ve got a problem with too many people coming here to let loose.”
“We are concerned,” he said. “It’s very challenging.”
Air travel has risen to its highest level in nearly a year, according to The Transportation Security Administration. On Saturday, a spokesperson for the agency said that TSA had screened about 1.4 million people at airport security checkpoints on Friday, the highest number of passengers since March 15, 2020, when about 1.5 million people were screened, Insider reported.
This rise in travel coinciding with the beginning of spring breaks and generally warmer weather, making Florida a popular destination for people who could potentially spread COVID-19.
“We’ve come a long way as a community in slowing the spread of the virus,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said on Twitter. “As you enjoy our city and our wonderful weather this weekend, continue your pandemic precautions.”
In September, Florida lifted all COVID-19 restrictions on all businesses in the state, allowing local governments to enforce stricter protocols however they chose.
Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, recently said that more lockdowns or travel restrictions “ain’t happening in Florida,” WPTV NewsChannel 5 reported.
The governor has been critical of President Joe Biden’s calls for continued precautions and has generally adopted a more laissez-faire approach to public health restrictions.
Last year, Florida made headlines for the droves of young people that partied there with abandon, then returned to their homes throughout the US and abroad, an analysis by Tectonix GEO X-Mode Social found, based on anonymized cell phone data.
It can’t really be known how widely the spring break parties spread the coronavirus, but by the end of March 2020, Florida cases had more than tripled, from 1,700 on March 1 to 5,473 by March 30. Cases as far away as California and Massachusetts have been linked to a single event, the “Winter Party Festival,” in Miami Beach, The New York Times reported.
DeSantis didn’t order people to stay home until April 1, but little testing was available at the time. The Winter Party Festival ended the day before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Times reported.
Florida coronavirus cases peaked in January 2021 at about 19,500 new cases per day. Today they’ve leveled off to roughly 5,244 daily cases, according to a Times tracker. Nearly 4 million people have been vaccinated, about 18% of the state’s population.
Spring break, which begins for many colleges this month, could trigger the rampant spread of new COVID-19 variants across the US, a world-leading global health expert told CNN.
While CDC advice remains to stay at home and avoid travel, students opting to vacation at spring break hotspots might accelerate the transmission of highly contagious strains.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Dr. Peter Hotez, founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, told CNN.
Hotez said he is particularly concerned that college students heading to Florida’s beaches could result in a surge of cases of the B117 coronavirus variant, also known as the UK variant.
“You’ve got the B117 variant accelerating in Florida. You’ve got all these 20-year-old kids. None of them are going to have masks. They’re all going to be drinking. They’re having pretty close, intimate contact,” he told CNN. “And then, after that’s all done, they’re going to go back to their home states and spread the B117 variant.”
The B117 variant is believed to be up to 74% more contagious than the original virus. Florida, one of the most popular spring break locations, is currently the epicenter of the highly transmissible strain.
There are 642 cases of the variant in the Sunshine State, more than any other state in the nation, according to the CDC.
“Spring break in Florida could spell disaster for the country,’ Hotez told CNN.
“This is not the time to have a superspreader event for that UK variant, which is what spring break in Florida would look like,” Hotez added. “This is not the time to be sending a bunch of 20-year-olds to Florida, then sending them back, disseminating it across the country.”
Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, Florida, shares these concerns. He told CNN that spring breakers congregating at bars, hotels, and restaurants “might become the kinds of super-spreaders that I think we saw a year ago.”
Like every other event during COVID-19, this year’s spring break will look different from years’ past. But despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, springtime vacations in Miami are still on.
Similar to last year, Miami Beach has implemented COVID-19 safety protocols through spring break from February 22 through April 12. This includes a curfew in Miami-Dade County from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m, capacity limits on some public beaches, and an uptick in police presence. Alcohol consumption will also be banned from public beaches during this “high impact period.”
However, these limitations aren’t stopping many travelers: Miami’s 2021 spring break season will likely be the busiest time for the city’s hotels since COVID-19 first hit the US, according to Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association.
Occupancy rates at Miami hotels are hitting all-time highs since the start of the pandemic
Jan Freitag – the national director for hospitality market analytics at STR, a hospitality data and analytics group – is predicting that Miami, and all of South Florida, will do “quite well” during the spring break travel season into the potential summer travel boom.
Occupancy rates in Miami hotels grew from almost 42% in October 2020 to nearly 55% in January 2021, according to data from STR. During the week of Feb. 14 to Feb. 20, these rates skyrocketed to 76% – which was down 14% from the same week last year, just before the pandemic started impacting travel.
Now, hotels in Miami are looking at 90% occupancy rates for Thursday-through-Sunday stays during the spring break season, Kallergis told Insider.
Among those is Mint House, a business travel and tech-oriented hotel chain with two Miami locations that have been seeing “extremely high” occupancy rates ahead of the spring break season, Will Lucas, CEO and founder of Mint House, told Insider in an email statement.
In February, Mint House’s Miami hotels hit an occupancy rate of more than 95%. They’re now heading into March with a 70% rate, but Lucas expects them to push past 90% by the end of the month.
Both Miami locations are now booked every weekend through April 5.
Differences compared to non-pandemic spring breaks
There will be some changes compared to previous Miami spring breaks, however. Events that have traditionally drawn people to the city – including Ultra Music Festival and large work conferences – have been canceled, which could decrease the number of springtime visitors. The county’s curfew could also put a damper on late-night beach parties, and many Miami hotels are still asking guests to wear masks.
“If you are coming here with an anything-goes party attitude, change your flight reservation now and go to Vegas,” Raul Aguila, Miami Beach’s city manager, said during a city-council meeting, The Wall Street Journal reported. “Miami Beach is not going to tolerate anarchy.”
Florida’s beaches have always been a go-to destination for college students on spring break. But this year, a Miami Beach, Florida official is asking spring breakers to instead head to Las Vegas amid concerns of COVID-19 spread from partygoers.
“If you are coming here with an anything-goes party attitude, change your flight reservation now and go to Vegas,” Raul Aguila, Miami Beach’s city manager, said during a city council meeting, the Wall Street Journal reported. “Miami Beach is not going to tolerate anarchy.”
Last year, several colleges were out on spring break when the US started imposing coronavirus-related shutdowns. As a result, Florida’s Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach began implementing safety protocols, such as limited gatherings to 250 people and an 11 p.m. curfew.
Dan Gelber, mayor of Miami Beach, is now predicting a “larger than typical spring break,” Gelber told WSVN 7 News. In response, Miami Beach has implemented even stronger safety protocols for crowds between February 22 to April 12. These new safety measures now include capacity limits on parking garages and some public beaches, as well as increased police presence.
The typical boozy spring break must-haves like coolers, tents, and alcohol consumption are now also banned from public beaches during this “high impact period.”
“If you plan to vacation on Miami Beach, do so responsibly or be arrested,” Aguila said in the news release announcing these additional targeted spring break measures.