Spring Break and influx of tourists causes concern for COVID-19 Spike

Panama City Beach

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB)– Many locals and tourists alike flock to the beaches for Spring Break in Panama City Beach, but with the pandemic still very much alive in our area, many question if this season will look a bit different.

According to Visit Florida, the tourism industry overall saw a 34% drop in visitors across the state last year.

But that wasn’t the case for Panama City Beach.

“We faired better than the rest of the nation and the state we were only down 7% in 2020,” said Lacee Rudd, the public relations manager for Visit Panama City Beach.

With the month of March now underway, Panama City Beach Tourism officials are excited to welcome more tourists to the white sandy beaches.

This season they expect to see an increase in those willing to make trips and take vacations, despite the pandemic.

“We are seeing a booking trend that emerged after the short term rental ban was lifted in 2020, that booking trend got us through the fourth quarter of 2020 and rolled into the first quarter of 2021,” Rudd said.

Rudd said she predicts the booking trend will continue throughout the spring season, but with an increase in tourists it leads many to wonder if a spike in COVID-19 cases is likely.

“Any time you increase your population size, which tourism will do, or you increase the activity of your population, you’re going to increase the contact and therefore your going to increase the prevalence and incidents of COVID-19,” local physician, Dr. Frank Merritt said.

Bay County Health Department has reported a decrease in COVID-19 positivity rates. At the end of January, the county had a 16.33% positivity rate. The week of February 6th, the department reported a 11.13% positivity rate. The week of February 13, the department saw a 9.27% positivity rate.

Dr. Frank Merritt says to mitigate the spread of the virus, tourists and locals alike must remained disciplined.

“You just don’t want to get it,” Merritt said.

The county has not reported any cases of COVID-19 variants at this time. Dr. Merritt said there are many unknowns surrounding the variants at this time, but there should be some concern and regard for them in our community.

“Some data has shown the variants have caused more harm or are more easily transmitted,” Dr. Merritt said.

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