As mid-March approached, colleges and coastal cities braced for the inevitable: swarms of students fresh out of Zoom school looking to do keg stands in a global pandemic.
In Florida, Palm Beach extended its 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew to deter would-be Spring Breakers. In Texas, a county judge reminded residents of last year, when beer-chugging kids caused several superspreader events. The University of California Davis even offered to pay students to stay home, though not much—their “Spring Break Grants,” which students had to apply for, maxed out at $75 gift cards to local businesses.
But the warnings haven’t kept crowds from swarming popular Spring Break destinations, from Miami to South Padre Island to Panama City.
“We’re packed from the time we’re open until the time we close,” Sydney, the manager of breakfast joint Bacon Bitch in Miami Beach, told The Daily Beast on Saturday. The Spring Break hotspot is in the state with the country’s highest number of cases of the new U.K. COVID variant. She estimated the restaurant, which has a capacity of about 175, has been serving “thousands every day” since the beginning of March.
Other Miami Beach businesses have also been packed—eight restaurants and clubs along the high-traffic Ocean Ave were too busy to talk by phone on Saturday. A spokesperson for Yardbird Southern Table and Bar told The Daily Beast they’d had a “huge influx of business” over the past two weeks due to various Spring Breaks. At The Standard, a high-end hotel in the Biscayne Bay area of Miami Beach, a rep said their rooms were fully booked every weekend this month.
Among the largely maskless crowds on South Beach this week, an Alabama A&M junior told the Miami Herald: “Granny shouldn’t be out here anyways. It’s too many people.”
The Miami Beach police department, which has escalated its Spring Break crackdowns in recent years, even donning riot gear to intimidate partiers, has handled crowds with extreme use of force that many claim historically targets Black tourists.
On Friday night, the MBPD tweeted that they were dealing with “very large crowds,” noting they’d detained several people and been “forced to utilize pepper balls” on civilians. One video showed revelers twerking on a cop car. Another disturbing video showed a massive crowd scattering as a half-dozen police officers descend on a single man, lifting his body into the air and slamming it to the ground.
The Miami Dade chapter of the NAACP, which shared the video on Instagram, called for the resignation of the Miami Beach Police Chief last year after several incidents of police brutality on Black Spring Breakers. (The Miami and Miami Beach Police Departments did not respond to requests for comment).
On social media, local event planners have rolled out weeks of events to cater to tourists. The Instagram page @SpringBreakMiami2021 shared a poster on Saturday morning for a “Freaknik Pool Party” at a “Secret Mansion Location” that night. The afterparty, also hosted at an undisclosed club, was themed “Hennything Goes.”
Another Instagram page invited guests to a white-dress pool party called “Cocaina,” promising mermaids, fire dancers, hookah, and another mansion. The invites did not mention masks, COVID-19, or social distancing. (Neither page responded to requests for comment).
Some event pages have been more covert in their announcements. The operator of an event page in a different Florida city told The Daily Beast they had been advised not to speak about the site. “The company is on my ass,” the administrator wrote. “They don’t even want me to make post[s].”
The surge of Spring Breakers has been helped along by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said in his State of the State speech in early March that he welcomed visitors to Florida, in the hopes of stimulating the local economy. DeSantis also made it harder for municipalities to enforce their own regulations, signing an executive order to cancel all fines for COVID-19 violations.
Vaccinations in the state have steadily risen to around 14 percent of the population as of last week. But even after recent updates to their travel guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advises against unnecessary travel.
“We are very worried that there’s going to be a convergence of people here,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told CNN last week, “and a real problem in the aftermath of that.”
On South Padre Island, off the southeast coast of Texas, a beachside bar called Clayton’s shared a now-viral video of maskless attendees huddled in circles and playing beer pong. The owner, Clayton Brashear, told local station KVEO-TV that he welcomed the crowds. “For Spring Break we really decided last minute that we’re going to open up, have DJs, concerts, everything,” he said.
Brashear has encouraged guests to wear masks, he said, but he’s not enforcing it. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has repeatedly tried to reopen the state during the pandemic, ditched the state’s mask mandate on March 10. Just days earlier on March 2, the state recorded a test positivity rate of over 12 percent—three times the national average.
The bar also operates a beachside stage called Clayton’s Spring Break Beach Stage, teaming up with a Spring Break website to offer deals on events, which take place daily. (Neither Clayton’s nor the website responded to requests for comment).
“With Panama City to Gulf Shores banning drinking on the beach in March and being anti-college spring break, South Padre Island is BOOMING,” the website, which charges $65 for a “Party Package Wristband” reads.
Of Clayton’s, it adds: “There is no question this is the #1 largest spring break daytime Party spot on South Padre Island.”