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Miami Beach Imposes Curfew To Try To Curtail COVID-19 Spread


People on spring break in the midst of a pandemic are apparently fighting for the right to party. Miami Beach is extending a state of emergency and curfew. Police clashed with partiers over the weekend after hundreds defied emergency restrictions. Veronica Zaragovia of member station WLRN in Miami joins us. Good morning.

VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What went wrong?

ZARAGOVIA: Well, the city of Miami Beach depends heavily on its hospitality industry as a lifeline, and the pandemic has hit tourism hard. So the city had hoped to strike a balance between welcoming tourists and keeping people safe. But city officials say they didn't expect this huge amount of people who came. They're blaming cheap flights. And over the last few days, crowds really swelled. The city's police chief said that at least one gun was fired. Police also fired pepper balls to break up a crowd after the curfew was set. And a very popular party venue on Ocean Drive announced it was temporarily shutting down to protect patrons and staff. And that really rattled people. Officials say arrests are up and the police department says it's arrested a thousand people since February. And officers are confiscating weapons and drugs.

INSKEEP: Well, how are people who traveled to Miami Beach for spring break responding to all these demands for restrictions and police on the streets?

ZARAGOVIA: I've been hearing a mix of reactions. Some say they understand the need for the curfew. But Christina Thomas, a college student, said she had heard that Miami has a fun reputation and good weather. She flew in from Indiana, and she thinks the police overreacted.

CHRISTINA THOMAS: I didn't think that it calls for all that because really everybody was just having a good time. Like, they weren't breaking into things. They weren't, like, fighting or anything like that. So it was kind of a bummer.

ZARAGOVIA: Another visitor I spoke to didn't come for spring break but says the curfew left her without anything to eat or do, so she was thinking of going to Fort Lauderdale because that city does not have a curfew.

INSKEEP: Oh, good point because this is being managed city by city, if at all. The state governor, Ron DeSantis, has been lifting state-wide restrictions and said Florida is open for business. Do officials in Miami Beach regret that?

ZARAGOVIA: You know, some, like Mayor Dan Gelber, wish that they had more teeth to ask people to comply with rules. But, you know, it does please people who come here from cold weather places and they like that things are pretty open here. I spoke to a local couple who live in Miami Beach, and they say that the governor is actually partly to blame for these crowds. They're Yasmin Aribu-Bisschop (ph) and Nico Bisschop (ph).

YASMIN ARIBU-BISSCHOP: I think him saying this is open and everybody can come to Florida, no, that didn't help.

NICO BISSCHOP: Let him come here on Friday night...

ARIBU-BISSCHOP: Yeah, you come and experience this.

BISSCHOP: ...In the middle of 8th Street and Ocean Drive. Come over here and see if you agree with this.

ZARAGOVIA: They say the police presence is unsettling for them, but - so the curfew just makes them feel safer.

INSKEEP: So I'm thinking about the calendar here. We're still in March. Colleges don't all have spring break the same week. There must be more of this to come. What happens next?

ZARAGOVIA: That's right. So the city agreed that they can extend this curfew for at least three weeks, and they will be limiting street and highway access to the area and restricting restaurants to delivery only after the curfew. But, Steve, this has also highlighted racial tensions. A lot of people who came are Black, and Black leaders are saying police force was unnecessary. Mayor Dan Gelber says they were just targeting conduct, and it was about trying to keep the streets safe for everyone.

INSKEEP: Veronica Zaragovia of member station WLRN in Miami, who is in the epicenter of spring break, thanks so much.

ZARAGOVIA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Veronica Zaragovia

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