Florida Spring Break Tourism In Question Amid Spread Of Coronavirus
Amid spring break for millions of Americans, Florida's governor declared a state of emergency to help fight the coronavirus outbreak. The state's popular beaches have been expecting big crowds, but some tourism officials are worried about the potential impact the outbreak will have on businesses.
For now, tourists are still flocking to the Sunshine State.
"The weather's great. It's cold back home," one visitor said.
The city of Miami Beach has installed hand-washing stations directly on the sand to help fight coronavirus fears. Some visitors told CBS News they plan to carry their own hand sanitizer on vacation.
"I always have it on me because it's like, you walk up, you touch railings, you go to class, you don't want to touch your face," one woman said.
A CDC warning isn't stopping people from boarding cruise ships either. A day after the agency cautioned against ship travel, seven cruise ships left the port of Miami with excited passengers waving as they departed.
Florida's health department has identified at least 15 cases of coronavirus. Two have turned deadly, one in Santa Rosa County, the other in Lee County.
Four cases have been found in Broward County, just north of Miami, where officials have canceled the Ultra Music Festival and the Calle Ocho celebration, each typically drawing crowds in the hundreds of thousands. Ultra Music Festival ticket buyers were informed Monday night that they will not get a refund.
"We cannot put the welfare and safety of our residents, for any amount of money, at risk," said Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo.
But money is a concern for the hospitality industry. More than 23 million people visited Miami in 2018, and tourism brought in roughly $18 billion to the area last year alone.
At a meeting with business leaders in Miami Beach on Monday, a city official said, "We're doing everything we can to get through this with the least amount of damage possible, obviously to public health and secondary to our economy."
Dan Rowe, the president and CEO of Visit Panama City Beach, said he's worried about the "uncertainty," but he insisted the Gulf Coast town is open for business and safe for everyone.
"The coronavirus is out there, but it's no different here than it is at home," he said. "So until there's travel restrictions limiting people's ability to travel around the Southeast … come on down to the beach and take those same precautions you would at home."
Many families drive down to Florida instead of flying, so the Department of Transportation said it has added educational materials to rest stops across the state to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.