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Some Beaches Close To Heed Coronavirus Restrictions

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is the time of year, of course, when young people often head to resort communities in Florida and along the Gulf Coast for spring break. And in the past few days, maybe you've seen these videos showing big crowds along those beaches despite the coronavirus warnings. Well, NPR's Greg Allen reports that some local officials are now pulling the plug on that party.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The pictures and videos have been circulating on social media - beaches packed with young people on spring break in places like Clearwater Beach, Fla., and South Padre Island, Texas.

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ALLEN: That was the scene a few days ago on South Padre Island. In response, the city yesterday issued an emergency declaration, leaving the beach open but limiting groups to 10 or fewer. In Florida, Miami Beach's mayor last week declared, quote, "spring break is over." The city closed the most popular beaches and ordered bars and restaurants to close early. But Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber concedes that did little to discourage the crowds.

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DAN GELBER: When I've been walking down Ocean Drive, when I've been looking at some of these cafes and the kids on spring break - and my own daughters just came home from spring break - you know, they don't think at all about this as a threat. They believe they're invincible.

ALLEN: Now Miami Beach has gone further, closing all county beaches and shutting down all bars and restaurants. I delivered that news to a group from North Carolina.

CURTIS SMALLS: Is that the same with the clubs and all that?

ALLEN: Bars and - yeah.

C SMALLS: Oh, man. Yeah. That's going to be a little tough.

ALLEN: That's Curtis Smalls (ph). He and his wife Tamia Smalls (ph) were in Miami Beach celebrating their anniversary and her birthday, and they weren't thinking about the coronavirus.

TAMIA SMALLS: We've been having fun. We really haven't been thinking about it. We act like it's not even existing because, I mean, it's a lot of things to do, yeah. It's nothing to be scared of.

ALLEN: Public health officials worry that even if they don't get sick, young people mixing in large crowds in bars and on beaches will be exposed to the virus and carry it home to infect their parents and grandparents. And there's increasing evidence young people also are at risk. The CDC reported this week that more than 10% of young adults who've been infected have been hospitalized. In light of the new guidance from the CDC, many communities are now closing their beaches. On Florida's panhandle, Walton County made the decision yesterday. Local health official Holly Holt says it's the best way to discourage spring breakers from showing up.

HOLLY HOLT: If you look at the hot spots, at the individuals, like, in Nashville, you know, some of the areas that people are actually - they're leaving there, they're coming into our beaches. You know, once they're here, everything spreads.

ALLEN: While Florida's governor has resisted a statewide beach closure, yesterday the governor in Alabama did just that. She ordered all beaches closed. That was after resort communities were overwhelmed by young people and families taking what many were calling a coronavacation. Here's the mayor of Orange Beach, Ala., Tony Kennon.

TONY KENNON: We have a significant number of people that are coming here to weather this event just because they'd rather be here than to be at their home and whether it be Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, wherever.

ALLEN: At this point, the beaches that remain open include those in Georgia and Texas and others in Florida. In Panama City Beach, Councilman Hector Solis says people on the beaches there have been mostly following the rules about limiting crowds and keeping their distance from others. And judging from cancellations hotel and property owners are reporting, by next week, he doesn't expect large crowds to be a problem.

HECTOR SOLIS: Most people that were scheduled for next week have canceled and are not coming. What will probably happen Saturday is that we will go back to pretty close to a ghost town.

ALLEN: The concern now in these resort communities is the economic fallout from what's expected to be a several months loss of their main source of income - tourism. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.