UPDATE, 11:26 a.m.: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was on Fox & Friends this morning and was asked about beaches staying open. Presumably in response to the pushback he has received, DeSantis said the message for Spring Breakers is “the party is over” in Florida. Still, he acknowledged that the state wouldn’t shut down all the beaches, although groups of 10 or more would no longer be allowed to “congregate” (good luck with that). Additionally (as noted in the column, below), he said that some prominent local communities have decided to shut down their beaches. The fact remains that DeSantis was slow to act—and that beaches in the state of Florida remain open.
Beaches in Florida and Texas are packed full of Spring Break revelers, and I’m not having it. We shouldn’t be surprised by youthful hedonism, but where are the adults?
Maybe you saw that viral CBS News video of the Florida Spring Breakers? You know, the one that begins with a guy declaring, “If I get Corona, I get Corona.”
Then, the last kid explains his irresponsible actions by declaring that he’s just “living in the moment.” It’s a telling line. People who care about the future don’t live this way. People who believe they have a purpose and a meaning don’t live this way. If you thought that innocent Covington kid with the MAGA hat was full of smug privilege, these are the kids who really deserve our scorn (they should read this, now). Nobody should personally target them, but if this were a horror movie, these kids would be the first to get it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s stressful being a promiscuous drunk on a college campus. Who doesn’t need a week at the beach in March to relieve the stress of being a college student?
But what they are doing is both dangerous and selfish. It’s dangerous because they could easily become infected (judging by the photos, there’s not much “social distancing” going on). It’s selfish because although they would likely survive infection, their behavior could kill vulnerable Americans, such as the millions of old people who happen to live in the state where they are currently “partying,” or the people they’ll come into contact with once they get back home.
Of course, it’s hard to blame testosterone-fueled young adults who are doing the same stupid things most of us would do before our frontal cortex was fully grown. The real problem is that the adults aren’t stepping up to the plate.
Why are these beaches still open? Where are the adults?
In many ways, this has been a moment for local leaders to shine. While Donald Trump was slow to respond to the pandemic, several governors sprang into action, closing down gathering spots, canceling events, and helping flatten the coronavirus curve.
The one glaring exception seems to be the beaches.
Now, the truth is that outdoor spaces are, perhaps, our last refuge. Twice this week, my family and I have hiked around a national park. We saw maybe five other hikers (and rightfully gave them the stink eye). The exercise is keeping us sane, and it would be a mistake to close down such isolated havens.
But what’s happening on these beaches—and, again, since the media loves nothing better than a good excuse to show photos of young coeds in bikinis, I’m assuming you’ve seen them—is entirely different.
There are reports that it takes three hours to cross the bridge into South Padre Island in Texas. These are huge crowds of people who are behaving with wanton disregard for public safety.
Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has verbally called out spring breakers for not practicing social distancing. “What we're going to be doing for the statewide floor for beaches, we're going to be applying the CDC guidance of no group on a beach more than 10 and you have to have distance apart if you're going to be out there,” DeSantis said. But that’s both too little and too unrealistic. (I never had the money to go to Florida, but I did spend one “senior week” at Ocean City, Maryland. As I recall, there wasn’t a whole lot of “social distancing” going on.)
The big question, then, is why are these beaches still open?
DeSantis ran for governor of Florida as a loyal Trumpist, but, since then, has gained accolades and, generally, gotten credit for being competent. Until now. My sense is that the Trump era has taught us the lesson that competence and experience and prudence don’t matter. One outcome of this emergency might be that our politicians learn that these things do matter, greatly.
In fairness, it’s hard to judge DeSantis too harshly when the guy he narrowly defeated was just found drunk in a Miami Beach hotel room with a man who is suspected to have overdosed on crystal meth. Imagine if THAT GUY were in charge now…
Still, DeSantis reminds me of Mayor Larry Vaughn, from the movie Jaws. You know, the idiot who ordered Amity’s beaches open, despite the presence of a HUGE FRIGGIN SHARK that kept eating people?
But it’s even worse: At least Mayor Vaughn had a reason. He wanted those sweet tourist dollars that pour into town during the big July 4 weekend. Amity was a small town whose local economy was built around that weekend, so his was, at least, a rational (if dangerous) bet.
That’s not the case for Florida or Texas. With nightclubs and restaurants already closed, it’s hard to see how there’s an economic incentive for keeping the beaches open. Some cities are actually doing this on their own. To be honest, the impact this is going to have on a state’s economy is so large that keeping the beaches open is sort of like, well, peeing in the ocean.
DeSantis isn’t Mayor Vaughn. He’s the state’s governor who empowers him.
I’m all for localism, but local communities may have their own reasons for doing things that, collectively, aren’t in the best interest of the state or the nation. So why is DeSantis deferring to the Mayor Vaughns of Florida? “We’ve seen some big crowds on the west coast of Florida and I’ve had a chance to speak to mayors on both coast[s] today,” DeSantis recently said. “If… they want to continue to [leave the beach open], we want them to have the freedom to do that, but we also want them to have the freedom to do more if they see fit.”
So here’s an idea. I’m told that there are hospital boats setting up to treat the virus in New York harbor. Let’s confiscate some cruise ships, and sequester these kids—for as long as it takes—out to sea.
Otherwise, if we let the partying continue, it’s hard to tell how bad this virus could get—or how many people these kids might infect before it’s all over.
We’re going to need a bigger boat.