After thousands of students disregarded coronavirus health and safety guidelines last March to attend beach parties in Mexico, Florida and Texas, many U.S. universities chose to cancel spring break this year to deter students from traveling amid the pandemic.
In Miami Beach — one of the most popular spring break destinations in the United States — things did not go as planned as large crowds descended on the entertainment district, letting loose and causing mayhem as they went on a rampage.
The Miami Beach Police Department tweeted that its officers were forced to use pepper balls that emit a noxious smoke “to disperse members of the crowd who were disorderly'' while congregating on March 13. Miami Beach officers were surrounded, and two were injured after trying to disperse crowds over the weekend, they reported.
"Too many are coming, really, without the intention of following the rules, and the result has been a level of chaos and disorder that is just something more than we can endure," said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber in a CNN interview.
Police have arrested people by the hundreds as authorities set a nighttime curfew at 8 p.m. local time for the South Beach entertainment district. A state of emergency is also in effect in the district to maintain order.
Students and other young people have been arrested for fighting, destroying restaurant property, wrecking public and private property, and possession of firearms and narcotics.
“We actually haven’t been really able to enjoy our vacation,” Tearney Bush, who was visiting from Texas, told Local10 News in Miami Beach. “There’s been a lot of the younger millennials that have come out here for spring break, just been acting hectic.”
The scene is a mirror of March of last year, when thousands of spring breakers descended on parts of Florida, Texas, Mexico and other warm-weather places.
“If I get corona, I get corona,” one college student said famously last year in a viral video. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” COVID was “blown way of out of proportion,” he added. Later, he apologized after contracting COVID, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
This year, about 60% of colleges and universities have cancelled their spring break period or replaced it with alternatives, according to recent research from the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College in North Carolina.
Some universities have “wellness days.” Assignments or assessments are suspended to give students a breather before studies resume for the second half of the semester.
“I am happy that spring break was at least replaced by some sort of break, and not just done away with,” said Ruhama Sahle, who is from Ethiopia and a junior at Syracuse University in New York.
“Granted, a full week would’ve been a lot more enjoyable as it would give us the opportunity to not just take a day off completely, but to also catch up with other school work and even get ahead.”
Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has cancelled its spring break and planned five “wellness days” throughout the semester. Wichita State University in Kansas announced it would delay the start of its spring semester. Syracuse University will have two “wellness days” instead of spring break.
Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island is replacing spring break with three-day weekends. The University of California-Davis offered $75 gift cards to about 2,500 students as an incentive for them to stay in town and shop locally,
Northwestern University in Illinois instructed its students to notify the administration of their travel plans during the university’s March 20-29 spring break.
Many schools have instituted COVID testing for students returning to campus. Some have instituted a seven-day wellness program for returning students. The week serves as a quarantine period with the testing and activities to engage students with friends and community.
Still, news footage showed scores of young people, most of whom weren’t wearing masks, dancing in the streets and leaving windshields broken after jumping on cars as police patrolled the area to get these raucous crowds under control.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommends people wear face masks to control the spread of the infection, which put the world in a lockdown a year ago. COVID deaths have climbed to nearly 3 million worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and CDC.
In Florida and Texas, the governors have suspended fines and penalties for coronavirus violations, including for not wearing masks. So far, Texas has had close to 47,000 deaths and Florida nearly 33,000. Those figures are second and third to California, which has seen nearly 58,000 deaths among the almost 540,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Florida has added more than 4,000 new coronavirus cases a day over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins tallies.
“We definitely want people to come and have fun,” Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola said Monday “It’s a nightlife city. We want people of all races, genders, sexual orientation. But we can’t tolerate people thinking they can come here and act out a scene from ‘Fast and the Furious,’ speeding down the streets and shooting guns in the air.”
Authorities point out that students are not just perpetrators, but also victims of crime during spring break. Two tourists from North Carolina have been charged for allegedly drugging, raping and robbing a 24-year-old woman from Pennsylvania. She was found lifeless at her hotel and pronounced dead.