Miami Beach Takes Stronger Measures to Stop Spread of COVID-19

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Takes Stronger Measures to Stop Spread of COVID-19:

New: 8 pm curfew in South Beach Entertainment District, Increased Police Presence

With COVID-19 cases surging in Miami-Dade County and crowds not following prevention measures, Miami Beach is taking stronger measures to stop the spread the virus. Beginning today, there is an 8 pm curfew in the South Beach Entertainment District (MXE) which includes Ocean Drive from 5th to 15th Streets and parts of the abutting CD-2 District including Washington and Collins Avenues between 5th and 16th. The earlier curfew is designed to “limit the hours people can be congregating out there on Ocean Drive and in the MXE,” City Manager Jimmy Morales told the Mayor and City Commissioners at a special meeting Friday. The 10 pm to 6 am curfew remains in effect for all other areas of the City as ordered by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

In preparation for Friday’s discussion, Morales sent a letter to the Commission in which he recommended the earlier curfew. He noted an incident-free July 4th holiday weekend following the implementation of the 10 pm curfew and closure of indoor dining spaces by the County and the 8 pm closure of package liquor stores by the City. 

“Coming out of that weekend, it was anticipated that we would see our typically smaller crowds for mid-July and August, particularly given the impact of the pandemic,” Morales wrote. “Unfortunately, this past weekend, we have seen large crowds that ignore all the masking and social distancing rules (likely super-spreaders of the virus) and engage in rude, disruptive and offensive behavior. Our residents and visitors are alarmed and fear for their health and safety, as do our businesses and their employees. Furthermore, the pictures and videos on social media strongly contribute to the image of South Florida as the national hotspot for this pandemic. It is fair to say that given the low occupancy rates in our hotels and the continuing 10 p.m. curfew, we did not anticipate such crowds. We do not want to make that mistake again.”

He reiterated the new policing plan that includes Command Staff working into the midnight shift on a nightly basis “to provide additional leadership and guidance” and enhanced staffing in the MXE this weekend that puts an additional 20 MBPD officers on the street supplemented by 24 Miami-Dade County Police Officers. Beginning Monday, a modified staffing plan goes into effect that involves 22 additional officers per shift citywide. (The local Police union is threatening a legal challenge to the plan saying MBPD Chief Rick Clements is using the pandemic to implement shift changes that he has "long desired and talked about" but which violate the union contract.)

In addition to the enhanced Police staffing, Beach Ambassadors provided by the County are being repurposed to hand out masks and encourage social distancing.

Earlier in the week, Morales banned all short-term rentals in the City. “This is in direct response to troubling issues that have arisen at short-term rentals in the City these past couple of weeks,” he wrote in his letter. “Even though the County order restricts short-term rentals to a minimum duration of one month, that represents a very difficult enforcement scenario. It is much more effective, as we saw during the earlier shut down, to have a simple ban. Unlike hotels that have rules and regulations and the resources to hire private enforcement, short-term rentals have none of those and pose risks to the community, particularly in the era of COVID-19. We will aggressively enforce this ban throughout the City.” According to the emergency order which took effect Thursday, short-term and vacation rentals must cancel all existing reservations “and shall refrain from accepting new guests or making new reservations, until the Order expires or is otherwise amended.”

Responding to questions raised at Friday’s meeting about enforcement of mask and social distancing requirements, Code Compliance Director Hernan Cardeno said his department has noted mask violations but because they are often secondary to a larger offense such as in the case of the illegal party house on Normandy Isle, they are recorded differently.

Clements said MBPD had been more focused on controlling crowds but would now emphasize the social distancing and mask use as part of the enhanced staffing and, by Friday night, officers were out on Ocean Drive handing out masks.

Park Rangers, as reported in our story earlier, have given warnings at a rate of more than 500 per day for the first two weeks in July.

Morales noted that Code Compliance has responded to “nearly 26,000 calls for service since March 16,” triple the normal amount of calls. Code officers have focused mainly on inside violations, he said, due to the greater chance of virus spread indoors. In response to an inquiry from RE:MiamiBeach, the City provided records indicating 15 restaurants/fast food establishments and a cigar shop had been cited for violating emergency orders since June 6, most for remaining open after curfew. Two liquor stores were cited for operating past the 8 pm closing time. In some cases, the businesses were closed for the evening or ordered closed for 24 hours. Three businesses have been closed until further notice – Scapegoat and Uncut for operating bars which are not allowed to be open in the City at the present time. Voodoo was closed after a recent brawl on the sidewalk out front which resulted in shots fired. No one was hurt but when Police arrived, they observed staff not wearing masks and a lack of social distancing. 

Also at Friday’s meeting, Morales once again explained his reasoning for reopening Ocean Drive to one lane of traffic, a decision that proved controversial. Saying he was responding to earlier Commission concerns about the “open air bar” atmosphere on Ocean Drive during its full closure earlier in the pandemic, he also recommended removing the barricades and closing the street once again. Commissioners agreed, supporting a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Mark Samuelian for a full pedestrianization for the time being.

In addition to the Ocean Drive closure, parking is now prohibited from 6 pm to 6 am in the areas bounded by 5th on the south, 15th Street on the north, Ocean Drive on the east, and Collins Avenue on the west. 

Morales suggested the Commissioners discuss the measures again at their meeting on July 29th when they will have two weeks of experiential data to review.  

Commissioner Michael Góngora once again warned, “If these things don’t work… we will shut [the Entertainment District] down to get it in order.” 

Reiterating some of his earlier comments, Morales wrote in his letter, “I think we need to begin serious discussions about the long-term future of the MXE and South Beach, and perhaps take advantage of this pandemic crisis to provide the synergy to make real and positive change.”

 

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