South Padre Island

Paris Hilton came this past Saturday to kick off South Padre Island’s Spring Break 2013. We just missed her. But after a long few days of work, we did make it to Texas’ largest beach bar & grill, the exact location where she will be hosting her highly advertised party. There were several construction workers there who were in the process of setting up a stage and party corral. It seemed the whole place was bustling with anticipation for the tens of thousands of spring breakers who will be invading the island.

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We all thoroughly enjoyed the calm before the storm. The traffic going over to the island was relaxed, we found plenty of open beach chairs to lounge in and soak up the sun, and we didn’t have to wait long for our unhealthy but delicious fried fish, oysters, shrimp, french fries, and onion rings at a bar & grill where we were pretty much the only patrons.

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Being public health students, though, it’s hard to erase from the back of your mind the public health disaster that next week could bring. We’ve been able to learn a little bit about spring break on South Padre from the Cameron County Department of Health, whose jurisdiction includes South Padre. The county has an ambubus (ambulance bus) that can hold about 20 people and has room for minor surgery. The ambubus is often used for big events, such as spring break.

Nothing reminded me more of how dangerous spring break culture can be until we ventured into a souvenir shop on our way off the island. While most of the items in the store were typical shorts, tank tops, hoodies, beach balls and hats, the first t-shirt we saw in the front of the store had an image of a girl snorting some substance that spelled out “SPRING BREAK.” I can appreciate having fun and enjoying yourself while on vacation, but this shirt irritated many of us. I’m not sure if the shirt was created to supply a demand or if it is meant to encourage substance use. Regardless, it is a prime example of the danger of spring break culture that lies beyond fruity drinks with umbrellas and swimsuit tan lines.

We felt relaxed, refreshed, and sun-kissed after our time spent on South Padre Island. While the island was pretty empty while we were there, it won’t be long before it is humming with fun-seeking spring breakers. Maybe a few of them will purchase the shirt, and maybe some will have the same feeling toward it as we do. If this shirt is telling at all of what is to come, we can only hope that the island is prepared for any public health situation that may arise in the coming weeks.

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