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College Students Flock to Panama City Beach Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Valerie Crowder

College students on spring break in Panama City Beach aren't letting the coronavirus pandemic stop them from having fun. 

“I could either stay in Milwaukee and get it, where there’s a possible case and multiple cases in Wisconsin," said Alyssa Timler, 21, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "Or I could come to Florida - where it’s warm - where there's multiple cases, as well.” 

Timler says she and her friends are concerned about the virus. That's why they're taking extra precautions to protect themselves from getting sick, including regularly washing their hands and cleaning surfaces with Clorox wipes, she said. "And we do not share cups." 

Despite warnings from federal and state public health officials about practicing social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, college students from across the country are partying with friends at local bars in the popular tourist town. 

On Sunday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state would issue social distancing guidelines to restaurants and bars. DeSantis's announcement comes after 39 more residents tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 100. To date, there have been no reported cases of the virus in Bay County. And local health departments across the state aren't publicly reporting how many people are getting tested. 

Last week, city tourism officials were welcoming visitors, assuring them that the 27-mile-long beach offered plenty of room for people to "spread out."  But on Tuesday, city council members will meet to consider necessary actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community. 

The estimated death rate for the virus is 2.3% of all cases, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That number could change as the number of confirmed cases rises. Older people are more at risk of dying from the disease. 

Jawontae Rodgers, 21, a junior at the University of Northern Iowa, says he's not worried about catching the virus because people his age have typically recovered from the disease. 

"I don't think it's a big deal," he said. "I'm not saying I can't die from it. I just don't want to stop living my life because you only have one. YOLO: You only live once." 

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.