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Spring breakers, beware — COVID isn’t through with you yet.
Experts are warning sun-seeking revelers that even being outdoors unmasked isn’t enough to protect you from respiratory illnesses like the coronavirus and the flu, particularly on our currently crowded coastline.
“Right now my message would be that COVID is not gone,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, associate professor of public health at the University of South Florida, in an interview with ABC affiliate WFTS in Tampa Bay.
The US saw a daily average of nearly 37,000 new cases of COVID-19 during the past week, according to epidemiological data compiled by the nonprofit People in coastal states such as Florida, the Carolinas, Virginia, New Jersey and California are currently at medium to high risk for COVID. Overall, deaths and hospitalizations from the disease are falling nationwide, but some researchers expect those numbers to creep up again as mask mandates are lifted. In addition, a “stealth” subvariant of Omicron, BA.2, has raised concerns both abroad and in the US.
For its part, Florida was among the first to do away with state-sanctioned mask requirements, when Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order in 2020 that banned local lawmakers from making them a rule.
An estimated 570,000 students will flock to Florida’s beaches this spring, according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times.
Rest assured, said Roberts, we now have more prevention and monitoring tools to help track the virus, which continues to cause spikes of infections in some densely populated areas of the world despite the waning Omicron variant here in the US.
“The good news for this year is the Omicron wave has really crashed out. The bad news is it’s not gone and it still actually has some significant transmission in our area,” Roberts said of Sunshine State beaches.
She expects to see cases of COVID as well as the flu rise again following spring break festivities throughout March and April — and going forward for years to come.
“I would worry about both, and seeing a spike in both after spring break, especially because crowds facilitate the spread. We’re going to watch. We watch every year, every year there’s a blip after spring break,” said Roberts.
Such unmitigated close encounters both indoors and out this season could breed yet another coronavirus variant.
“What I would be more concerned about is if we see a blip of a variant,” she explained. “So the Omicron [BA.2] is around. Strains have been detected in the US. That’s one of the major things that I’ll be watching for, just to see if that variant is picking up speed.”
Health officials have advised vacationers to continue to wear masks indoors, especially in busy establishments and anywhere where vaccine uptake is low. Roberts also urged not to forget about the elderly, the immunocompromised and children under age 5, all of whom may not have the “luxury” of vaccination.
“So many people do have that pandemic fatigue, but I would say that you have the luxury of having pandemic fatigue, whereas a lot of other people do not. So for people who are immunocompromised, kids under the age of 5, the pandemic is still ongoing and it’s still something they have to be aware of,” said Roberts.
Those folks especially should consider steering clear of spring break hot spots.
“One thing I would say to keep in mind is what activities are really necessary to do right now and which ones are not. If you are a parent and your kids are off for school, I understand it’s very tough to find something to do for that week, but there are activities that are much, much safer and much less likely to be crowded with people,” she said.
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