You learn as a child that if something is considered wrong, you probably should not do it. But the more you are denied it, the more (oh, the more) you will have it. Sometimes you get impatient and take what you should not, even if you are warned not to – like catching a chocolate cake out of the cookie jar when your parents explicitly tell you to wait until after dinner. Let me now turn my attention to the sandy beaches of Miami Beach, because that seems to be the core of what’s going on there.
If you feel like having deja vu, you are not alone. We do not know how many people returned from the spring break with coronavirus this time last year (people were not ordered to stay at home in Florida until April 1, 2020), but we do know, for example, that cases as far away as California and Massachusetts was inducted into the Miami Beach Winter Party Festival last March. After a devastating year of illness, hundreds of thousands of deaths, orders at home and isolation from loved ones, young people from across the country, many without masks, are pouring into celebration, despite the fact that we are nowhere near herd immunity.
On March 20, 2021, the city of Miami Beach imposed a curfew and declared a state of emergency to help control the crowds. Both have since been expanded, possibly through April 13, if necessary. (To make matters worse, the police presence and subsequent arrests in the area have been criticized by the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP as racist, primarily targeting black youth.)
The difference in this 2021 scenario is that we are a year into a deadly pandemic and we know the consequences of this kind of behavior. However, Governor Ron DeSantis has been showing a lack of COVID-19 restrictions in the state for a long time now and completely lifted restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in September. So before the curfew, there was really nothing stopping these spring brides from feeling like they could “loosen up in ways that are unacceptable,” as Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber put it. (After all, DeSantis called the state an “oasis of freedom” from restrictions last month at Orlando’s conservative political action conference.) Not even the fact that an estimated eight percent of COVID-19 cases in Florida are due to the more contagious B. 1.1.7 variant. The only thing that could have stopped them was a sense of moral responsibility (guess, that didn’t do the trick either). The cookie jar was left unattended.
I’m four years out of college, but as a 20 year old I’m still a young person. And I’m sick to my stomach when I see social media flooded with footage of people – swarms of young people – living their lives in the spring, as if we are not still at the bottom of a global pandemic. It’s not just in Miami that my own Snapchat and Instagram feeds suggest.
Take South Padre Island, Texas, where college students are apparently in full spring break mode with no security protocols. A party participant interviewed by a local news station admits that anyone who brings COVID-19 back to school with them “is likely to happen.” They added, “Like just realistically, it’s likely going to happen, but I’m not really worried, I’m just trying to have fun while I can, you know what I mean?” Another acknowledges their concern about giving the virus to grandparents at home, only to offer a solution: Stay there all year. As a context, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate and opened the state to full capacity earlier this month. My question for spring breakers is how can you do this with a clear conscience?
In a recent interview, Sabrina Assoumou, MD, MPH, an infectious disease doctor at Boston Medical Center and an assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine, said she wants people to remember one thing: although COVID-19 is declining, it remains it a serious threat. “I still remember when I was on duty during the spring wave in Boston. I wanted to get these calls about patients who literally crashed and died of us,” she recalled. “Every story is someone’s beloved. And COVID is a big deal. There are so many lives lost.”
I would like to take this opportunity to update everyone on a few important facts:
- Superspreader events can lead to mass cases of COVID-19.
- Although adolescents are less likely to develop severe forms of COVID-19 and more likely to have mild cases, they are not immune to the virus (and BIPOC has been hardest hit).
- Young people are spreads the virus the most (a study cites Americans between 20 and 49 as responsible for more than 70 percent of the COVID-19 spread last year).
- The COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations – and although there are promising data from Israel suggesting that the Pfizer vaccine specifically reduces transmission, we are not 100 percent sure that a vaccinated person can still not get an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 and transmit the virus.
- Even still, only one in six adults in the United States has been fully vaccinated until now. We are a way away from herd immunity.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only says so vaccinated people can now gather in groups without masks, and the agency still says to avoid public crowds.
I can then guarantee you that swarms of 20-year-olds in bikinis, bellies filled with cheap beer and tequila shots, not everyone has gotten the vaccine (in most parts of the country, older adults, high-risk people and health care and key workers are the majority of Those currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States). I’m not saying that young people as a whole act irresponsibly – did you personally go on spring break in a responsible way? Good for you! – but when taxes of us become ruthless for the world to see, it’s hard to ignore. And what about when these mask-free and sun-protected parties leave? What happens when they go back to their respective houses, where they learn online, or back to their university campuses? What happens then? It’s about the safety of family members, friends and people in public they will interact with if they are not quarantined.
I plead with young people: stay close. You want to know what came after the flu pandemic of 1918? The roaring 20s. Example: we can have our turn to celebrate when the time comes. Until then, drink responsibility in every sense of the word; you do not have to meet in crowds that break social distance, without masks to have fun, and this applies to any gathering outside of festive festivities. Seriously, call some friends and. . . I do not know . . . drink in a distributed backyard, or better yet, take pictures via Zoom!
Does everyone have the right to make their own decisions, even if those decisions are dangerous? Of course. Am I, myself, antsy? Absolutely. But my position is this: Do not take unnecessary risks for a few days of fun in the sun. My general mentality is also that if you are at the fence about whether a particular social gathering is safe or not, do not go. I may be just a young person – a voice in a sea of ever-changing scientific data and noise and opinions – but this pandemic, with springbreakers aside, has shown me the true colors of people, and I’m furious. Needless to say, if you have not already collected mask-free in large groups and you have not taken the cookie out of the f * cking cookie jar, good for you. I’m right there with you.