PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Spring Break is in full swing on Pinellas County beaches and doctors are urging all of us to stay safe and mask up as Florida now tops the nation in the number of COVID-19 variant cases.
Hotels and restaurants on Clearwater Beach are busy once again. It’s a sight Jeff Keierleber, owner of The Edge Hotel on Clearwater Beach has waited nearly a year for.
“We’re all very very excited about it,” he said.
Still, safety is Keierleber’s top focus as he welcomes back guests to the five hotels he owns in Pinellas County.
“When you look around, there’s different groups of people but it’s in pods with who they traveled with. People are smart overall if you leave them to their own devices, they’re going to stay safe,” he explained.
Doctors say that’s key. Spring break is now coinciding with Florida topping the nation in the number of COVID-19 variants, which is a strain of the virus that doctors say is more contagious.
Since most Spring Break visitors are either college students or young families, many do not meet the age requirements to get vaccinated, and Doctor Thomas Unnasch at the USF College of Public Health worries we could see a spike in cases here in Tampa Bay if we’re not careful.
“We’re kind of sitting right at this balancing point now and it might tip us to where we see an expansion in cases,” he elaborated.
Dr. Unnasch says the B 1.1.7 variant, which started in the United Kingdom, now makes up about 40% of all new cases in Florida and is growing at a rate of 10% per week.
Doctors recommend outdoor activities and spreading out as much as possible on the beach and in swimming pools, emphasizing that a safe spring break is possible if we all do our part.
Diana Brown, who is visiting Clearwater Beach from Indianapolis, says it’s a mission she is taking seriously. “I’m wearing the mask and social distancing, especially from people I don’t know,” she said.
Keierleber also believes Spring Break visitors will be vigilant. “People are really dying to get out and socialize and we’re excited about it. They all know the importance of being safe,” he added.
This year, Spring Break locally for Pinellas County and Hillsborough County Schools falls the week of March 15th.