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Miami Beach Mayor To Spring Breakers: Enjoy, But Wear A Mask

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
City of Miami Beach
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber on what spring break looks like one year after the pandemic interrupted last year's celebrations.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: For the second time in a row, spring break will take place during a pandemic. Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis limited crowds on beaches, shut bars and told partiers to go home. This year, the state has no travel restrictions or statewide mask mandate, and businesses are open. That makes life difficult for city leaders in some popular travel destinations, like Miami Beach. Dan Gelber is mayor of Miami Beach, and he joins us now. Welcome.

DAN GELBER: Hey, how are you?

SHAPIRO: All right. To begin with, describe what Miami Beach looks like right now. I mean, is the scene a typical spring break like from before the pandemic?

GELBER: At least. We're getting a lot of people coming here. Obviously, it's sort of the alignment of a lot of different trends that are happening. The first is we're one of the only places open. Other places are either closed or too cold or both. There's a lot of discount flights out because of air traffic. There's discount rooms available. People have been sitting around for a year or so. Lots of folks want to get out and go somewhere. And it's also the time when college kids are making their annual, you know, pilgrimage somewhere, and we're one of the more popular destinations. So we're getting a lot of activity, probably...

SHAPIRO: I know that...

GELBER: And I think more activity than we probably can handle.

SHAPIRO: I know that concerns you, given that there's no statewide mask mandate and that the governor has gone so far as to block local governments from enforcing public health orders, like closing bars or restricting restaurant capacity. How are you dealing with safety and public health?

GELBER: Not well, to be very candid. You know, our city was the first in the country after the CDC said to wear masks to put in a mandate. We had given out a thousand citations. We were very serious about doing it. And the governor decided when he opened everything up that he was going to make it gratuitously more difficult to control the virus by eliminating our ability to actually impose an actual fine.

So we're left trying to do end-arounds all of this. For instance, you know, we have people walking around, handing out masks, urging people to use them. We have a lot of cooperation from a good amount of our business community - not all of it, but a good amount. Hotels and restaurants have been terrific. But bars and late-night bars, many of which are trying to catch up for money they've lost over the last year, are doing whatever they can, some of them, to really just let anything go. And of course, people are coming here. Many of them really don't - I don't think they think there's a pandemic right now because they're not acting like it when they arrive.

SHAPIRO: And so what is your greatest concern? I mean, what do you fear will happen?

GELBER: Well, first of all, I don't want to be a superspreader. I don't want to be responsible for people getting sick so close to the end of this horrible episode simply because, you know, a few people or more than a few were very irresponsible. That endangers our workers. It endangers our residents. And honestly, it endangers a lot of communities nearby and far away.

SHAPIRO: Is there any part of you, after a year of seeing such a drop-off in tourism dollars, that feels a little bit of relief that the economy is getting a bit of a boost from this?

GELBER: Well, listen. I - look. I love our hospitality industry. It's exactly what it sounds like. It's people who like to - who really enjoy making people feel good and welcome. But at the end of the day, we have to be careful about health and safety. And a lot of them - and a lot of folks have been able to, you know, get their groove back. And mask usages certainly would help to do that. In fact, I'm sort of a - I never understood why the governor was so against using masks, given the fact that it's perhaps the best way to open up the economy.

SHAPIRO: In just a sentence or two, what's your message to people who might be hoping to visit Florida in the next few weeks?

GELBER: Well, if you're coming here to do anything and you think this is an anything-goes place, just don't come here. Please go somewhere else. And if you're going to come here, enjoy our beaches, dine outdoors and wear the mask and be smart. We all want to be safer.

SHAPIRO: That's the mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber.

Thank you for talking with us.

GELBER: Thanks, Ari. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.