MIAMI (AP) -- Officials are imposing an emergency 8 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew for Miami Beach, effective immediately after hard-partying spring break crowds trashed restaurants, brawled in the streets and gathered by the thousands without masks or social distancing, according to authorities.
At a news conference, officials blamed overwhelming and out-of-control spring break crowds for the curfew, which was taking effect Saturday night in South Beach, one of the nation's top party spots. Tourists and hotel guests are being told to stay indoors during curfew hours.
It's unclear how long the curfew will remain in effect, but Interim City Manager Raul Aguila told the Miami Herald that he recommends keeping the rules in place through at least April 12. A countywide midnight curfew was already in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These crowds are in the thousands," Aguila said. "We're at capacity."
No pedestrians or vehicles will be allowed to enter the restricted area after 8 p.m. and all businesses in the vicinity must close, Aguila said, reading from a statement released by the city.
The curfew comes as a prominent bar, the Clevelander South Beach, announced it was temporarily suspending all food and beverage operations until at least March 24 after crowds crammed Ocean Drive, breaking out into street fights. At another restaurant next door, tables and chairs were smashed during a fight, news outlets reported.
Local officials and businesses have struggled to balance courting tourists to boost the economy while doing so safely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Tourism is the Sunshine State's No. 1 industry, generating more than $91 billion in 2018, and last year spring break was one of the first big casualties of the pandemic as beaches shut down across Florida when the U.S. went into strict lockdowns. Meanwhile, alarming scenes of college students heedlessly drinking, dancing and getting up close without masks were plastered across social media.
Miami tourism officials say billions of dollars were lost during those three months last year. The city's tourism arm just spent $5 million on its biggest national advertising campaign in 20 years.
At the same time, local officials banned alcohol from the beach, along with all alcohol sales after 10 p.m. in an effort to curb partying. The city even sent cellphone text messages to tourists warning, "Vacation Responsibly or Be Arrested."
"Spring break in Miami Beach may be one of the great rites of passage, but only if you plan on following the rules. Otherwise, you might as well just stay home and save yourself the court costs," the message read.
But local officials have struggled to enforce COVID ordinances. Under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' pro-business stance, Florida has no statewide mask rules, limits on capacity or other such restrictions.