Florida: Open for Business!
Updated: Mar 19
A recent survey by the travel site Trivago found that 38% of all Americans would be willing to give up sex for a year in order to resume traveling immediately! I’d like to offer a less painful alternative: Go to Florida!
By: Les Heintz
Whether it's 2-Days or 2-Weeks, when it's time to escape... it's TravelAnne time!
Florida is definitely open for business. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still not like it was before the pandemic, but after spending a bit of time in the sunshine one is left with the sense that a somewhat “normal” life is within sight.
If you live north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River, there’s a good chance at some point in your life you’ve flown or driven south to escape the cold. Historically your destination was mostly determined by the Interstate system. Midwesterners seem to migrate down I-75 to Florida’s gulf coast. Residents in the mid-Atlantic region drove I-95 and ended up on the Atlantic side of the state.
These historic migration patterns have morphed three words together in American culture.
Florida Spring Break!
Last Year Spring break was minimal. We were just entering into the lockdown a year ago. This year the story is much different. People seem to feel they’re on the back-end of the lockdown and spring break appears to be almost in full swing.
Unofficial reports indicate that many airports across the country are jam-packed this week. While still not yet close to pre-pandemic levels, the TSA reports that they screened more passengers this week than they have since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to multiple travel sites, spring break destinations in Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach and Destin, Florida appear to be especially popular this year.
Some might consider Florida’s approach to the pandemic outside of the norm. In May of ‘20, the state started lifting lockdown restrictions. This allowed stores and restaurants to begin reopening in all but three counties in South Florida. The stay-at-home order also ended at the beginning of May.
At the end of September, all remaining statewide restrictions were lifted in Florida allowing local communities to set their own guidelines. Kids were going to school, weddings were taking place and people were going to restaurants, coffee shops and bars. People were wearing masks, but businesses and schools were open.
At the same time, the state did play hardball when it came to protecting the elderly, which there are a lot of in Florida. This policy is based on the concept of protecting the most vulnerable while at the same time limiting the spread of this evil virus without crushing the economy and peoples’ lives.
The results speak for themselves. Per capita COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Florida are below the national average and much lower than other populated states like California, New York and New Jersey. Florida’s unemployment rate is also below the national average even with the hit to the states’ tourism industry.
Florida is a huge and diverse state. It has the third highest population in the country. Currently each community sets its own COVID-19 guidelines. In Key West, police gently remind young visitors to mask up. Miami Beach has implemented a midnight curfew for spring break.
Our first-hand experience is further north… in Jacksonville, Orlando and Ormond Beach. With a few exceptions, social distancing is still in practice. Most people are wearing masks inside even when it’s not required. Those who do not mask up stand out like a sore thumb. No judgement is intended. It’s just a fact. In the current environment, people who do not wear masks seem to get noticed.
That said, things are more relaxed here. It’s probably due to a combination of the weather, the sunshine and the emphasis self… rather than government rule. I suspect the transition taking place in Florida is what the rest of the country will experience as we inch our way to a semblance of a “normal” life.
Don’t get me wrong. During our travels here, we experienced situations that could be a bit unnerving, at least at first. At a casual outdoor restaurant and bar in New Smyrna Beach, tables were separated but the bar area was packed. At another restaurant in Ormond Beach, tables were definitely not separated, and the wait staff worked without masks.
We could have easily removed ourselves from either situation but did not. Both were strange experiences, but we never felt truly unsafe. In fact, we dined at the restaurant in Ormond Beach more than once... each time in a corner booth pretty much to ourselves.
One side note here. All of the hotel and resort properties we have toured in Florida have implemented smart and reasonable safety protocols. We discovered one worth mentioning at the Four Seasons Orland near Walt Disney World®. During lunch, we were offered ziplock plastic bags for our masks while we ate. It was a thoughtful touch and the kind of attention to detail you can expect from such a fine organization.
I see these experiences as part of the transition to a non-pandemic existence. It only makes sense that the journey to “normal” life be made up of a series of phases. It appears that Florida is in the early stages of that journey.
For those eager to travel, this should be welcome news!
Yes, Florida is open for business and it’s my sincere hope is that this state is in fact ahead of the curve. I look forward to the day when other parts of the country experience the optimism I’ve witnessed here over the last few weeks.
There is a prevailing belief here that the worst is behind us. Maybe it’s the sunshine. Maybe it’s the vaccine. Whatever it is, I can’t wait until it migrates north!
**Les Heintz a media consultant and independent television producer based in Washington, DC. He is Executive Producer of multiple television series. He is also Co-founder & Executive Editor of TravelAnne.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesHeintz57 or email Les at Les@TravelAnne.com
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