New Coronavirus Hits Florida's Spring Break
MIAMI BEACH, FL — While spring break has already sprung in parts of Florida, the spread of the new coronavirus has taken its toll on this year’s annual rite of passage here with a greater number of cancellations and fewer breakers thus far this season to fill the hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.
This urban resort island has been through the great recession of 2008, the Zika virus and Hurricane Irma but the new coronavirus has brought new challenges. See also Florida Governor Declares State Of Emergency Over Coronavirus
“We can continually tell people just wash their hands all the time, but it’s a lot more sophisticated for you all,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told representatives of the travel industry Monday at a special forum to share information on best practices for protecting the millions of visitors who flock to the Miami area each year to partake in the endless summer, sizzling nightlife and sandy beaches.
Epidemiologist Jenna Webb of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County had some good news with respect to the latest scientific understanding of the virus. Don’t miss updates about precautions in Florida as they are announced. Sign up for Patch news alerts and newsletters.
“You can only get COVID-19 from somebody with the disease,” she said. “There’s no asymptomatic transmission yet.”
Eighty percent of cases for the most part involve individuals who are asymptomatic or who have only mild symptoms, added Dr. Yesenia Diaz Villalta, administrator for the agency. See: Interactive Map: Latest US Coronavirus Cases
While the virus can live on hard surfaces for up to nine days, it can also be easily killed with regular cleaning, Diaz Villalta explained.
“That’s why it’s so important for all of us to clean areas that are frequently touched and to make sure that if we touch this table, don’t touch your hands. Don’t touch your nose. Don’t touch your eyes.”
She pointed to elevator buttons, hand rails, desktop computers, telephones, remote controls, toilets and door handles as potential problem areas.
“Obviously for bed sheets and towels, (use) just regular hot water,” she advised. “If you are able to sanitize with your washing load. …. it should kill the virus.”
Employees of some hotels and restaurants may be asked to self-monitor if they come in contact with guests or colleagues who test positive for the new coronavirus.
“Self-monitor means taking their temperature. They are supposed to do it twice a day,” the doctor said. “If their temperature increases more than to 100.4 and develops signs and symptoms of COVID-19 … they are to self-isolate first, and then contact their medical care provider.”
Diaz Villalta said researchers don’t yet know whether the virus is seasonal like the flu, or even whether Florida’s warm temperatures will prove beneficial.
“That is still under speculation,” she said. “They are still doing a lot of research.”
All of this uncertainty has a silver lining for travelers brave enough to board an airplane, train or car in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Ironically, there’s probably great opportunity from a price point perspective to come to Miami … and enjoy this amazing destination at the best time of year — and at the best prices of the year,” observed Rolando Aedo of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
According to data compiled by his organization, nine out of 10 hoteliers in the Miami area expect to have a greater number of cancellations in March and to a lesser extent, the months of April and May because of the new coronavirus.
“Whenever you see a decline in occupancy, or a projected decline, what the hotels will typically do is obviously adjust their rates to help drive new business,” Aedo said. “If we’re seeing a 5, 10 percent decline in future business, I think that’s a fairly good indicator in terms of some of the price adjustments that are being made in the marketplace to attract incremental business to fill the hotels.”
The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau is also likely to roll out some of its most popular incentive programs like Miami Spice, to attract more business. The dining program allows people to experience signature dishes at some of Miami’s best known restaurants at heavily discounted prices.
“This feels like global Zika but it’s more of an unknown,” acknowledged Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association.
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She said some local hotels are already offering incentives to compensate for the lost business.
“The last time we looked a couple of days ago, a lot of them (were offering) 15 percent discounts, food and beverages, amenities with it,” she said. “There’s definitely decreases of resort fees, which I think is helpful. There’s definitely some great deals out there. I’m sure it’s going on across the country right now.”
Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales said his city’s first responders have implemented new screening procedures to respond to 9-1-1 calls.
“If questions are answered in such a way that it could be coronavirus, then the first responders who show up maybe have a mask on. They’re prepared. They have a mask ready for the individual. They approach the scene differently,” Morales told Patch. “We haven’t had it get to that point, but we have had at least two (calls) on Miami Beach where the protocol kicked in — a little higher level of preparedness and sensitivity.”
Morales, who has faced other challenges as city manager, said the coronavirus is unique.
“Hurricanes, you can see them coming. You know when they are going to get here. You can evacuate. You can do what you got to do. You can prepare,” he said. “Zika was more limited. We were concerned about women, pregnant women.”
The new coronavirus could potentially affect far more people.
“We don’t know if this will end at some point, or if it will just continue,” he conceded. “I think the lack of information, the newness of it, also makes it challenging.”
None of that stopped Jasmine Jones and her girlfriends from spending a long weekend in Miami Beach where they enjoyed boating, Jet Skies and some of the city’s famous nightlife.
She told Patch she did her best to minimize the threat posed by the new coronavirus.
“I keep my hands washed — many times,” she offered. “I never was dirty, but I’m just extra cautious now.”