Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber in a video message Friday shared his thoughts on the eventual reopening of the City when the COVID-19 threat subsides, acknowledging “We cannot keep our local businesses closed forever. We will need to get back to work. But how we emerge is trickier for us because we are not a typical city,” noting the area attracts millions of visitors from around the globe. The “quandary,” he said “is how do we open up a destination city like ours without causing a reemergence and spread of this deadly virus.”
He previewed a gradual reopening that may include continued restrictions tailored to the City’s unique profile as an international destination.
As of Friday morning, the number of COVID-19 cases in Miami-Dade County surpassed 8,300 with 189 deaths attributed to the illness, according to the State Department of Health. Gelber said the numbers show that “our County is far and away the hot spot of Florida with far more positive infections and deaths than any other region. And our City continues to be a very active area within the County.”
He noted, though, that prevention efforts including social distancing and wearing masks “have caused the number of new infections to flat line and even decrease. But we are still clearly at risk as the percent of positive test results continues to fluctuate from day to day, which means that people are still being infected and we have not yet reached a peak level of infection.”
In considering how and when to reopen, Gelber has emphasized caution and the need to lean on the advice of medical professionals. In his latest message, he said, “We will do this deliberately and we will not rush into it. And we will rely foremost on science and public health professionals for guidance.”
Gelber said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez “shares our view that the worst thing we could do is rush into a reopening” and that Gimenez has “made it clear that we will work together to customize the reopening in our City so that it works for us and the region.”
“We know once restrictions are loosened countywide, it is likely it will be our beaches, restaurants, and bars that people flock to,” Gelber said.
Acknowledging there are regions with very few COVID-19 cases, he said, “While we are watching what the federal government issues as to guidelines and what directions we receive statewide and in our own County, we may not adopt their schedule exactly. Or we may require certain safeguards that are not necessarily present in other places because of the unique profile of our community. Things like controlling capacity, requiring masks or gloves, testing of workers.”
In terms of timing he said, decisions will be made “as more information becomes available.” But, he noted, “To give you one metric that is instructive, Disney World, whose visitors in many ways resemble the kinds of visitors who regularly come to our City, will not take reservations until early June. The cruise industry has set a date even farther into the summer.”
“But I think you can expect a phased reopening of some things faster than others,” indicating, as City Manager Jimmy Morales did earlier this month, that a reopening of the parks is likely to happen first, with some limitations. For example, group activities such as basketball probably won’t be allowed initially because of the need for social distancing.
“Pools may also be easier or faster to open as we can control capacity. Beaches will come back on line as well, but only after we have figured out how to prevent throngs from amassing,” he said.
“With regard to retail stores, restaurants and hotels, you can expect a gradual opening with clear limitations and requirements to protect against a return of the virus. We have already started reaching out to many of our hotel, retail, and restaurant proprietors who are already, as you would expect, working on developing best practices with their own technical teams,” Gelber said.
“Let’s be clear, all these kinds of openings – whether phased, partial or full – will happen after the County and State have greenlighted these actions. And only after our health care professionals have pressure tested our local approach as a best practice.”
“Importantly, we will have to have in place technical expertise and capacity,” he said. “Experts and the CDC have made clear we will need access to much more testing, and also have protocols for surveillance testing, isolation procedures and contact-tracing for those who test positive. Unfortunately, I am not convinced at all that there currently exists the capacity and competencies necessary to deliver these essential measures.”
“I know that staying at home is getting old fast. So much of what we love about our community are the things that we can’t avail ourselves of right now. And, of course, the economic consequences have become their own peril, separate and apart from the health concerns. But nearly 200 people in our County have died, and with many others on ventilators, it is likely that hundreds more will succumb as well.”
“So, while this is not a permanent condition, it is a necessary one. For a bit more we will need to stay the course,” he said, thanking residents for their “patience and calm.”
He concluded, “Stay healthy and, for now, at home.”
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