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Don't travel to see launch

Floridians are getting mixed messages regarding whether it's safe for spectators to flock to Brevard County during the COVID-19 pandemic to watch the first human space mission leave from Kennedy Space Center in almost a decade.

On one side, we have NASA asking people to stay home to watch SpaceX's rocket launch with two astronauts inside, scheduled for May 27. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said “We don't want an outbreak.”

On the other, we have Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey encouraging people to come to Brevard. According to him, the county is “absolutely” open for launch business, though people should follow social distancing guidelines.

“If NASA is telling people to not come here and watch the launch, that's on them. I'm telling people what I believe as an American. And so NASA has got their guidelines, and I got mine,” Ivey said at a news conference Friday.

So, who should space aficionados listen to?

This question should answer itself.

In case it didn't: Please listen to NASA. There will be other launches to watch, hopefully when the worst of the pandemic is over.

With people's lives on the line, we'd rather side with the experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, who last week warned states against skipping critical milestones in efforts to reopen their economies.

Even Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is heeding such advice. His executive order to reopen parts of the state specifies local jurisdictions should prohibit gatherings larger than 10 people in places that don't allow for physical distancing, at least for the time being.

This isn't a matter of preference or politics: It should be based on science and data. Let's be realistic: Social distancing will be hard, if not impossible, if thousands of viewers descend upon the Space Coast.

Ivey pledged that his deputies will be looking to ensure launch viewers are maintaining social distancing. And he said if people see visitors not following CDC guidelines, they should say something so deputies can take action.

We appreciate that but: Brevard officialsonce expected up to half-million people to attend the May 27 launch. That's roughly how many attended the last shuttle launch in 2011. Suppose that 500,000 estimate — or, say, half or a quarter of it — materializes on May 27. It would be virtually impossible for law enforcement to police whether thousands of people are standing at least 6 feet apart while also contending with traffic and other issues.

It's understandable that an elected official like Ivey is eager to see Brevard's economy thrive again. But it's irresponsible to encourage people to view the launch in person when there's clear evidence large gatherings have led to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Take for example an annual gathering in early March of active and retired sheriff's officers in Detroit that left at least seven partygoers sick with the coronavirus, dozens more infected at the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and one commander dead.

Now extrapolate that to thousands potentially gathering on beaches, parks and causeways, going to restaurants, gas stations, pharmacies. The timing just isn't right for that kind of gathering.

Listen to NASA.

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