At the ‘epicenter’ of the COVID pandemic, Miami-Dade mayor resists more closures

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday he wants to see if existing restaurant restrictions, an

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday he wants to see if existing restaurant restrictions, an ongoing 10 p.m. curfew and a countywide mask order help stabilize the county’s alarming COVID numbers before forcing more businesses to close.

Gimenez is under pressure on both sides, with cities and restaurant groups criticizing last week’s ban on indoor dining and Miami-Dade seeing much more coronavirus spread and hospitalizations than when the county mayor ordered all nonessential businesses to close in March.

“We’re not there yet. But everything is on the table. I don’t think anyone on this call wants to take that drastic step,” Gimenez said at a Monday morning online press conference with local doctors advising him on Miami-Dade’s COVID plan. “If we simply follow the rules, and keep our masks on and keep our distance, wash our hands, that we’ve opened can be done in a relatively safe way. … Right now, I don’t have any intention of going further.”

The mayor’s press conference was announced after political rivals scheduled their own Monday morning media event to criticize the county’s response. Miami-Dade Democrats repeatedly criticized Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, and Gimenez, a Republican congressional candidate, for failing to communicate on hiring contact tracers.

“I hope that the governor and mayor will come to their senses and work with all of us to act quickly,” said Miami-Dade Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whom Gimenez hopes to challenge as the Republican nominee in Florida’s 26th Congressional District.

“At best, we have a hole in our leadership at the state level and at the federal level,” Democratic state Sen. Oscar Braynon said. “A coordinated effort between federal, state and local leaders would have stopped us from breaking the [COVID case] record yesterday.”

County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who is running for Miami-Dade mayor, said DeSantis should activate a temporary field hospital in Miami Beach, which has not accepted a single patient since opening in April but remains open.

“We have a field hospital in Miami Beach, but it hasn’t been activated,” Levine Cava said. “The governor has said we’re bringing in 100 nurses from out of state, but we don’t have a plan. We don’t have a state plan, we don’t have a county plan. Some have estimated we need 10,000 contact tracers. We need to get started.”

On Sunday night, Miami Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala. the health secretary under President Bill Clinton, called for a 21-day shutdown.

Doctors call current situation ‘extremely grave’

Doctors on Gimenez’s call described Miami-Dade’s COVID situation as “extremely grave” and placing the county in the “epicenter” of the current COVID pandemic that once was ravaging New York and China. They urged the public to comply with county rules on businesses and public spaces, including requirements to wear masks.

“We really need your help. Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic. What we were seeing in Wuhan five or six months ago, now we are there,” said Dr. Lillian Abbo, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Miami and chief of infection control at the county’s tax-funded Jackson hospital system.

Miami-Dade’s daily count of reported COVID cases topped 3,200 on Monday, a fraction of the more than 50,000 reported daily from the Chinese province of Wuhan. And New York City’s COVID measures remain far more alarming than Miami-Dade’s. While Miami-Dade is seeing about one in four COVID tests come back positive, roughly 70% were testing positive at the peak of New York’s outbreak in the spring.

But the county numbers are far worse than what Miami-Dade faced when Gimenez reopened restaurants and nonessential businesses on May 18. Then, COVID patients occupied about 22% of the county’s supply of intensive-care beds. On Monday, they occupied 98% of ICU beds.

Abbo said she’d welcome more business restrictions but not at the expense of more people being pushed into financial turmoil.

“Yes, I would love to order a lockdown. However, we are trying to prevent that,” she said. “Because we understand how important the economy is … for people to be able to pay their day-to-day bills and survive.”

Gimenez said the public needs to take the mask rules seriously and make it socially unacceptable to ignore them.

“All of us have to have a little bit of peer pressure in enforcing the rules,” he said. “It’s not OK to take off your mask in front of me, thank you very much. Because you may have the virus. As a matter of fact, I may have it. That’s the message that needs to be driven home.”

He declined to say whether he’d asked the White House to encourage President Donald Trump to cover his face when he flew to Miami late last week and greeted Gimenez without a mask, an apparent violation of the mayor’s own emergency rule that masks be worn in public places. The county has not answered what exemption applied to Trump, except that the White House requires people greeting the president to be tested for COVID ahead of time (as Gimenez said he was).

“The president of the United States has extraordinary measures that protect him,” Gimenez said Monday. Trump wore a mask for the first time in front of the media the next day while visiting a military hospital near the White House on Saturday.

On Monday, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said he thinks the president and DeSantis should reinforce the wearing of masks, especially if they appear in Miami-Dade County.

“I’d love for the president to come out and say everyone should wear a mask in public,” Suarez told the Miami Herald. “I’d love for the governor to say that as well. There’s a segment of the population that listens to them and only then. We would all benefit if they would say that.”

Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.

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