Spring Break 2021 Travel Presents a Challenge

They are putting in rules; they are putting in restrictions; they are adding more police…

They are putting in rules; they are putting in restrictions; they are adding more police presence, and they are generally cracking down.

But no matter how many precautions officials in towns and cities across the country take, they are resigned to the inevitable.

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Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, spring breakers are coming if not already there.

Last year, in the earliest days of the pandemic, high school and college students flocked to traditional spring break destinations with a “coronavirus-be-damned” attitude – Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Clearwater, Daytona Beach and Panama City Beach in Florida; Las Vegas; New Orleans; and Caribbean destinations including Jamaica, Punta Cana, Cancun and the Bahamas.

That was hubris run amok – spring breakers simply refused to have their annual party canceled, descended on places in droves and, for many, ended up causing superspreader events.

This year? Despite warnings again from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they’ll be there again.

March 1 is considered the unofficial start to spring break season, and on March 1, 2021, the beaches were packed.

Officials at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, for instance, expect the month of March to be its busiest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago, all due to people traveling for spring break – not only students but adults and families with a pent-up demand for travel looking to get away, especially someplace warm.

Air travel bookings show several days this month likely peaking at more than 28,000 passengers clearing security, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s talks with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates MSP.

The previous daily peak during the pandemic was about 22,000 passengers on Dec. 27. Before the pandemic, a busy spring break travel day often resulted in some 35,000 to 45,000 travelers clearing security at MSP.

“As vaccinations make their way into more arms and people go crazy after a full year at home, there are signs that travel is picking up — both in the long-term and short-term,” said Kyle Potter, editor of Thrifty Traveler, a Minneapolis-based travel website.

In addition, he said, airlines are offering “some absolutely crazy cheap airfare through the spring” to “woo travelers back to the sky.”

RELATED: We recently discussed the 2021 Spring Break travel scene on our TravelPulse Podcast here:

In Miami Beach, city officials are doing everything they can to hold down the crowds. Miami Beach has implemented even stronger safety measures between February 22 and April 12 that include capacity limits on parking garages and some public beaches, a ban on coolers, tents and alcohol consumption on public beaches, an advertising campaign aimed at students and even a stern warning from a city official.

“If you are coming here with an anything-goes party attitude, change your flight reservation now and go to Vegas,” Raul Aguila, Miami Beach’s city manager, said during a city council meeting, the Wall Street Journal reported. “Miami Beach is not going to tolerate anarchy.”

At the moment, however, it’s looking like their actions are to no avail.

The crowds are there, and Miami Beach officials are predicting hotel room occupancy will be 20 percent higher than it was at this time a year ago.

In fact, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told the Wall Street Journal that “We could potentially see a truly outsized spring break at a time when the last thing we want are major gatherings.”

Spring break destination cities have been helped somewhat by colleges all over the nation. Many schools delayed the return of students for the second semester. That is, instead of returning in mid- to late-January after holiday break, many colleges and universities didn’t start their second semesters until mid- to late-February. That means three straight months of learning, and no week off for spring break. Some schools even implemented such a calendar back in the fall semester, canceling a long mid-term break and postponing events such as Parents Weekend. All with the goal of limiting student contact and keeping the virus off campus.

But, just as with the defiant students from a year ago, youngsters are even more emboldened this year by the arrival of three different COVID-19 vaccines, two of which have already been in use for more than two months.

With the vaccine helping to lower the rate of transmission, and with a bevy of airline and hotel deals, spring breakers are finding it hard to say no.

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

But not everybody is vaccinated.

Not everybody is wearing a face mask.

And on spring break, not everybody is social distancing.

Spring breakers will find a way past those 11 p.m. curfews and will still party and let off steam.

Whether that becomes an event that contributes to a surge in cases remains to be seen. With new, more highly transmissible variants of the virus, the CDC recommends no travel at this time.

Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist and infection preventionist at George Mason University, told the Washington Post that she would prefer Americans stay home or take a staycation this year. But she also said she understands there is a growing need for mental health breaks.

Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist with the COVID Tracking Project, says there are both safe and extremely unsafe options for a getaway.

“It just really depends. Everything right now is about reducing risk,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be as binary as lock down, stay at home … that’s not really sustainable.”

“For doctors like me who work in the ICU, [spring break partying] is our nightmare,” added Humberto Choi, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “Please don’t do that.”

But Florida’s rules and restrictions are much more lax than other states, and the allure of spring break is too enticing.

“We don’t know enough about the duration of immunity, and we have seen many instances of reinfection at this point,” Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Washington Post. “There is a risk that you could become infected again and then bring that back to your family and friends.”