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What Memorial Day weekend means for Florida’s ongoing fight against COVID | Editorial
Vaccinations more important as Americans get out and about this Memorial Day weekend.
People visit Honeymoon Island State Park on April 21, 2021. A fuller reopening of Florida's economy this year makes the 2021 summer season a critical moment in the state's recovery from COVID-19.
People visit Honeymoon Island State Park on April 21, 2021. A fuller reopening of Florida's economy this year makes the 2021 summer season a critical moment in the state's recovery from COVID-19. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 27

The great experiment begins this weekend. With schools out, masks off and society more fully reopening, the nation, and Florida in particular, are entering a new chapter. It’s another reminder of the public desire to make up for lost time, and of the added importance at this stage of the pandemic for eligible Americans to get vaccinated.

Memorial Day’s tradition as the unofficial start of summer takes on added dimension this holiday weekend. For the first time in two years, Americans are making summer vacation plans. The outpouring of pent-up demand should be on full display this weekend, as travelers take to the highways, as visitors pack the beaches and as families and friends fire up the grill for backyard parties, many for the first time since 2019.

The Orlando-area theme parks have eased their distancing and masking requirements, in line with relaxed federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more outdoor events are getting back on the calendar, as more Americans get vaccinated, and as public health officials recalibrate the risks for large gatherings, especially those held outdoors. Kids are returning to summer camp. And the expectations for fall are even higher. School districts are expecting hordes of more children to return to traditional classrooms, even with masking policies still in flux. And more cruise lines announced last week they are resuming departures from Florida in the fall, with voyages from Miami and Port Canaveral beginning as early as October.

The nation’s reopening is in full gear, even though only half the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. The share of Americans fully vaccinated, at about 40 percent, is significantly smaller still, even as the number of vaccinations has plummeted nationwide from the peak in early April. And vaccination rates in Florida lag the U.S. average, concerning for the nation’s third-largest state, which depends on tourism, especially as the summer travel season looms. Public health authorities are using mobile units and other labor-intensive techniques to serve hard-to-reach populations. Advocates are also making greater use of televised public service announcements to reach young people, minorities and holdouts skeptical of the vaccines or the government’s campaign. But getting more shots into arms is going to be a slog, and Florida cannot let up now.

This weekend offers a great opportunity to boost the inoculation numbers. Getting the vaccine is free. And the convenience and availability of vaccine is so great that retailers and publicly-supported sites are accepting walk-ups. If anything, the long holiday weekend should be a walking advertisement for how getting vaccinated allows us to get together again.

Floridians should recognize their self-interest in getting a jab. Increased vaccinations will bring more social mobility, a fuller return of government services, a more confident workforce and a faster economic recovery. Florida would better compete as an international destination for tourism and business. A healthier working-age population could better serve a recovering labor market. And as a practical matter, vaccinated Floridians could enjoy peace of mind, safer public interactions and the freedoms that come with not being the subject of evolving guidance from public health authorities.

So enjoy the holiday weekend, and the pleasure of having plenty more to do. And see it as an opportunity to keep moving in the right direction.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.