City Manager Jimmy Morales discussed a draft reopening plan this week at the City Commission’s Finance and Economic Resiliency Committee meeting. He said the Administration has been monitoring community spread and local transmission “to decide how and when we would get to Phase One” which could be 14 or 21 days of declining statistics and the ability to do community testing and contact tracing (identifying, monitoring, and requiring a quarantine period for those who have come in contact with someone infected with COVID-19).
Phase Two, Morales said, would be “sort of a new reality between the Phase One hopefully being successful and what we call resilience… a vaccine or treatment that can be very effective.”
This week’s parks opening, he said, “really is the first opening of the community.” The parks opening will give the City the ability to look at the results 2 to 3 weeks after. “Do we see numbers go up, new cases, hospitalizations?”
Following conversations with medical professionals, Morales said, “While they’re comfortable, I believe, with a phased opening of parks as a way of giving people more places of social distancing, fresh air, exercising, they’re not ready to go beyond that.”
“My sense is that by reopening the parks next week on a phased basis, [then] two weeks maybe three, medical experts look at the data,” Morales said. “Assuming the data is good, we may find ourselves in mid to late-May” moving to Phase One. Then, looking at the data again in another 2 to 3 weeks, if it’s good, the City could then move to Phase Two openings in early to mid-June."
In addition to restaurants and retail, Phase One would include gyms/fitness studios, nail and hair salons, and spas with social distancing and other rules. (See full list below.)
Hotels and short-term rentals would not open until Phase Two. “The hospitality group is very sensitive,” Morales said. “The worst thing would be a relapse… The market’s confidence going back into restaurants and hotels would be hurt.”
Bars could open in Phase Two, but there is no plan to open clubs in the early stages. “It would be challenging to create any social distance in that kind of setting,” Morales said.
Same with special events and outdoor festivals. “I struggle to see in the next couple phases them coming online,” he noted.
“Hotels and beaches should probably be in sync when they open,” he said. In the draft plan beaches are recommended to open in Phase Two with restrictions that include social distancing, no crowds, and exercise-related activities.
While the City is recommending places of worship not open until Phase Two, Morales said, “The question is could that happen in Phase One with groups of less than ten… I think that’s worth a good discussion.”
City Attorney Raul Aguila said the restrictions most likely to see a legal challenge are those that mandate the closing of places of worship which involve first amendment rights. “Since we are allowing essential busineses to open and since we are reopening other facilities… is there a way to open houses of worship… with social distancing, hand sanitizers, anything short of closing them altogether?”
Looking ahead, Morales said Phase Three will “depend a bit more on medical developments” including vaccines and treatments.
Finance Committee Chair, Commissioner Ricky Arriola said, “Lost in all this… is the human impact of the shutdown.” He urged the Commission and Administration to “do a better job of thinking about, at least in Miami Beach, the tens of thousands of people not working.”
“Every decision that we make that delays an opening is prolonging that suffering,” he said. “Food doesn’t magically appear on your plate. Bills don’t magically get paid… there’s a real impact in each of these phases”
The City, he said, needs concrete plans and to give “real direction to businesses and employees on when they can expect to get back to work.”
Commissioner Mark Samuelian said, “I completely understand the need to reopen, the business impact… At the same time, we’ve got to make sure we do it in a way that puts public health first and ensures that things we do are building and adding confidence because we ain’t going back, so we’ve got to do this in the right way.” He said a phased approach with the advice of a health advisory committee “strikes the right balance.”
Mayor Dan Gelber said, “Although this has enormous and almost unfathomable economic impact on people, this is at its root a health care crisis. Any mechanism that we’re looking at for opening up has to be pressure tested by the most informed scientists and doctors available"
"We’re figuring out the best and most technically sound approaches and the timelines will happen when doctors and scientists tell us ‘Now you can do it in a way that doesn’t cause massive loss of life,'" he said.
Gelber said while 250 people in Miami-Dade County have died of COVID-19 as of Friday morning, “With all of the counter measures that we employed and the County employed, there is no question had we not done any of that… thousands of people would have died, there’s no question.” With approximately 150 people on ventilators including some who will succumb to the virus, he said, “We’re getting more capacity to deal with both not just testing but also treatment and potentially vaccines… Until then we have to be careful and we are being careful which I think is the best course.”
Arriola responded, “We’re going to start losing people to all of the things there is… loss of health care, delayed treatment, suicide, alcoholism.”
“Take measures to start reopening to give people the opportunity to put food on their table… There will be long-term consequences [of delays] and that’s something we will have to live with,”Arriola said.
Commissioner David Richardson said, “There’s a recognition that we’re not going to wait until the infection rate goes to zero before we start reopening. We have to listen to the medical professionals, listen to the science, but we need to start having plans.” With a nod to Morales, he said, “Jimmy’s got a plan in place. I don’t know that we’re in a position to start thinking about dates.”
Morales said he would provide more details at the City Commission meeting on Friday. He reminded Commissioners that, with regard to timing, “We can’t act first because we’re covered by the County orders. We have to follow their lead… We can try to persuade but, at the end of the day, until [Mayor Gimenez] lifts an order or revises, with a few minor exceptions, we do have to follow his lead.”
Morales said, “Within a couple of weeks, hopefully, we’re seeing real progress with that antibody testing.”
Miami Beach Parks Director John Rebar outlined the City’s plan for reopening its parks. Initially, 24 parks along with the City’s two tennis centers and two golf courses will be allowed to open with maximum hours of operation from sunrise to sunset. Park users and staff will be required to wear masks except during strenuous exercise such as running and playing tennis. Strict social distancing will be enforced.
The openings are “intended for short periods, two hours or less,” to allow “time in the sunshine” and to get exercise, Rebar said.
Ten parks will remain closed, Pride Park next to the Convention Center which is currently set up as a temporary hospital, if needed, and smaller pocket parks and dog parks which, Rebar said, “don’t have room for social distancing.”
If the County order goes as he expects it will, areas that will remain closed include all children’s playgrounds, indoor facilities, outdoor exercise equipment, picnic areas, dog parks, skate parks, pools, and volleyball courts.
There are areas that “may show up as open within the County order but we are recommending to go stricter [on],” Rebar said including park restrooms which the City Administration is recommending remain closed. The only exceptions would be the restrooms at the two tennis centers where social distancing and one-at-a-time use can be enforced.
While the County may elect to open fishing piers, Rebar noted the South Pointe Park Pier is a “major tourist attraction. Social distancing is very difficult to achieve and more difficult to regulate” so it is recommended to remain closed for now.
The County is expected to open basketball courts with strict rules on the number of players with each needing to bring their own basketball. Rebar said those rules would also be “very difficult to regulate and oversee” so the Administration recommends Miami Beach’s basketball courts remain closed.
The City will try opening the track in Flamingo Park. “It is a diffiicult crowd to manage,” Rebar acknowledged. “It’s going to be a little staff intensive” but, he said, “People have a strong desire to get on that track and use it.”
The City plans to bring back furloughed Park ambassadors, Park Rangers and some part-time recreation staff to enforce social distancing and other rules.
“Compliance is so key with this Phase One opening,” Rebar said. “We can’t have people going out there and doing what they want and not obeying Park Rangers and Police.”
He said the City is prepared to open the same day the County opens its parks.
Morales reminded Commissioners, “We cannot be more lenient than the County order but we can be stricter… we’re pretty much mirroring their order with a few exceptions.” He said “We hear the order would be sometime over the weekend effective next Wednesday, dependent on when they’re ready to do true enforcement.”
Later, in his Friday video message, Gelber outlined the requirements for getting to Phase One openings. “Before we can take the step of reopening, some factors must become clear. First, the trajectory of the virus has to continue downward and the presence of the virus has to be sufficiently diminished so it can be managed. Which means, secondly, we can only really move toward loosening restrictions when we know we have the technical capacity and bandwidth to address an outbreak which will likely happen no matter our best efforts. That is done through surveillance testing, contact tracing and truly available and effective testing.”
“Surveillance testing means testing samples of the population to allow us to monitor the presence of the virus in the community and thereby determine what countermeasures may be appropriate before it is too late. Contact tracing, which is very labor intensive, gives us the chance to trace and monitor who has come into contact with infected people, enabling us to support efforts to quarantine and to prevent further spread. Our experts have told us that rushing into an opening without this capacity in place would be very risky.”
“Right now, our County just doesn’t have the technical or manpower capacity to properly trace contacts,” he said. “That may change. Also testing availability is still too limited in availability and accuracy. That may also change soon. But it has not yet.”
“We need to act deliberately, guided by medicine and science. To those suffering economic strain, I think you know this was necessary to save lives. But also know one day, in the not too distant future, this will be behind us,” he concluded.