Miami Beach is facing an influx of spring breakers as much of the country remains under restrictions because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Because most pandemic restrictions have been lifted in Florida, people are coming with an “anything goes” mentality, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told USA TODAY on Monday, after a weekend of mayhem that kicked off with police in Miami Beach shooting pepper balls to disperse a crowd that had gathered around officers who were making an arrest.
One of the officers body-slammed James Harrison, 19, of the Brooklyn borough of New York City, as he was being taken into custody, and the crowd became “extremely aggressive towards officers,” according to a copy of the police report.
An officer fired pepper balls “due to the large, aggressive, unruly crowd and the immediate posing threats to officer safety,” the police report said.
The Miami Beach Police Department made 163 arrests over the past seven days, spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez told USA TODAY.
Florida police encounter: Police shoot pepper balls to disperse ‘unruly’ crowd in Miami Beach
‘It’s only going to get more crazy’: Spring break crowds a concern during critical moment in COVID-19 fight
“It’s like a triple threat: We’ve got too many people, too many coming with a desire to go wild and we have the virus,” Gelber said. “It really poses a multifaceted peril for us.”
Miami Beach can’t handle so many people, he added. And the city has been shutting down streets as gridlock is occurring.
“I think it might be a little bit related to just people looking to let loose after being pent up, but some people are coming here with sort of an anything-goes mentality and even if it’s just a small percentage … it’s a small percentage of an enormous amount of people,” Gelber said, noting that flights to the city have been cheap and room rates are low.
The city has also implemented “zero tolerance for all of our ordinances,” Gelber said, which means Miami Beach Police are making arrests for having open containers and more.
Spring breakers ‘seem to have forgotten that there’s a pandemic’
Though spring breakers have faced arrests and traffic citations, the city can’t fine tourists or residents for refusing to wear a face mask, Gelber said.
“I’ve been on Ocean Drive almost every day in the last week, and the number of people not wearing masks or just not bothering with any of the healthy practices is very disturbing,” he said. “An enormous number of people are coming our way, and many of them, if not most, seem to have forgotten that there’s a pandemic.”
Gelber said that while the number of new positive COVID-19 tests daily has plateaued, the statistic remains high. And there is evidence, too, that more COVID-19 variants are present in Miami-Dade County.
According to the Florida Department of Health, new cases in the county have hovered between 800 and 1,900 since the beginning of the month. Covid Act Now, a nonprofit that analyzes COVID-19 data, categorizes the county as “very high risk” – the fourth-highest tier on its five-tier scale.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida spring break: Crowds, COVID-19 pandemic a problem, mayor says