“By order of the governor and the mayor, large crowds of people are prohibited from congregating together,” New Orleans officers said, according to video footage. “Your actions are jeopardizing public health. And we are directing you to clear the streets and to go home or back to your hotel.”
If last weekend was any indication, the party crowd seems unconcerned about “social distancing” — minimizing contact with others to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The reported number of infected people is expected to spike as the government ramps up testing. Still, hundreds swarmed the dance floors in Nashville honky-tonks. Masses in green drank their way through bar crawls in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood. Scores of fervent spring breakers took over the Miami coastline.
By weekend’s end, state and local officials said it was time for drastic measures — in some cases closing bars and restaurants altogether. As Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber (D) said Sunday: “The party is over.”
“We cannot become a petri dish for a very dangerous virus,” he said during a news conference announcing beach closures, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Weekend footage and photos of people crammed into bars or in outdoor spaces included a widely circulated video on Twitter showing crowds swaying to country music with the headline “Downtown Nashville is Undefeated.”
Social media backlash was swift.
“My 75-year-old mother with respiratory issue lives in Nashville,” tweeted historian Kevin M. Kruse, “so if you all could take a loss this weekend by somehow managing to stay out of Tootsie’s for one … night, I’d really appreciate it.”
On Sunday, the mayor of Nashville and Davidson County, John Cooper (D), closed all bars and nightclubs throughout his jurisdiction, including the strip of historic honky-tonks.
“As a community we must come together and take care of one another, and that includes practicing social distancing that inhibits the spread of the virus,” Cooper said in a statement.
Steve Smith, the owner of several popular Nashville clubs, signaled he would fight the mandate.
“We appreciate the efforts of Mayor Cooper to combat the COVID-19 virus, but unless there’s a statewide mandate that directs all bars and restaurants to be closed, the request made by Mayor Cooper is unconstitutional as he is targeting a select group of businesses,” Smith wrote in the statement, according to the Nashville Business Journal.
Cooper’s decision follows moves by the states of Illinois, Ohio and Washington to shutter all bars, nightclubs and restaurants for dining in, as the cities of New York and Los Angeles entered similar lockdowns. California shut bars and Massachusetts closed restaurants.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) pleaded to little avail for social distancing. The bars in Wrigleyville complied, keeping admissions to no more than 250 people; still, crowds waited in lines outside.
“I tried earlier this week to appeal to everyone’s good judgment, to stay home from bars, not to congregate in crowds,” Pritzker said Saturday, the Tribune reported. “It’s unfortunate that many people didn’t take that seriously. The time for persuasion and public appeals is over. The time for action is here. This is not a joke. No one is immune to this. And you have an obligation to act in the best interests of all the people of this state.”
The organizer of several Wrigleyville bar crawls told the Chicago Tribune he continued with the crawls for financial reasons, echoing the concerns of other small business owners.
In Miami, Mayor Gelber closed the beaches entirely on Sunday following an officer-involved shooting Saturday night that injured one man and caused a stampede of beach goers, according to WSVN.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean J. Trantalis (D) closed his city’s beaches Sunday, thwarting disappointed spring breakers from flocking there next.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) praised the mayors for their decisions while urging disgruntled partygoers to adopt a new perspective.
“Missing out on staying out and drinking at a bar, that is not the end of the world,” he said, according to WSVN. “You’re gonna have time to do that in the rest of your life.”