The golden sands along Florida’s coasts have long been one of the state’s greatest resources, helping Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis oversee a tourism mecca that brings in more than $40 billion a year.
But as the coronavirus pandemic halts American life, those same sun-scorched beaches, and the crowds they draw, are currently at the heart of some of the harshest criticism aimed at him.
DeSantis has avoided issuing a statewide mandate to close the beaches in Florida, instead showing deference to local municipalities to make that decision. On Thursday, during a visit to a mobile coronavirus testing facility in South Florida, DeSantis issued his strongest condemnation of spring breakers partying on the beach.
“Spring break’s done,” he said of his order to limit gatherings on beaches to no more than 10 people. “Any place to go for bars and all this, done. They don’t have a place to go.”
DeSantis did not, however, close the beaches, arguing the choice on what to do about beaches “probably needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis.”
Some, like the heads of Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa have issued mandates to close some of the state’s most popular beaches.
But local officials in other parts of the state have allowed them to stay open, and videos of young spring breakers on some of Florida’s beaches over the last week have gone viral as they flout guidance from the federal government and, in some cases, outright tell reporters that they couldn’t care less about the spread of the coronavirus.
Florida governors are often tested by disasters, namely hurricanes, which often rock the state and cause billions in physical damage. DeSantis’ first test is coming in the form of an invisible threat – coronavirus – that won’t wreak the physical havoc that a hurricane can but is a particular threat to Florida’s notably older population.
DeSantis said on Thursday that the state has 390 total confirmed cases of coronavirus, with eight total fatalities. But some in the state are worried that those numbers could soon grow because of the number of travelers who have come in and out of the state in the last month.
DeSantis has been active on other coronavirus measures, but his response to the calls to close the beaches stands in contrast to other governors and the bellicose warnings about partying millennials from President Donald Trump’s task force on the virus.
And those videos of millennials who think they are invincible are now testing DeSantis’ strategy of local deference.
“There is concern when you have hundreds and hundreds of kids gathering like that,” DeSantis said this week, chiding those revelers and heralding cities that have closed the beaches, but stopping short of a statewide ban.
He later added, “What we’re going to be doing for the statewide floor for beaches, we’re going to be applying the CDC guidance of no group on a beach more than 10 and you have to have distance apart if you’re going to be out there. So that applies statewide.”
And DeSantis has responded to the videos of jubilant spring breakers by noting that they are “not uniform throughout the state that you’re seeing massive crowds at beaches” and warning that the virus is “not something that you want to be very cavalier about.”
DeSantis is right, and some cities have reported residents heeding the warnings and staying off the beaches in large numbers.
DeSantis, though, has not issued an impassioned plea for Floridians – and the tourists still flocking to the state’s shores – to stop acting like nothing is happening, setting up a stark contrast with Rick Scott, his predecessor and current Republican senator from Florida.
“Get off the beach,” he told CNN bluntly on Thursday morning. “Every, every level of government has to be very clear, don’t be on the beach unless you can be somehow completely by yourself.”
His reluctance to stop the partying on the beach also contrasts directly with governors from across the political spectrum who have been more aggressive, including Republi