Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Miami-Dade has been one of the hardest hit counties in the United States. Even as Florida begins slowly unshuttering restaurants, bars, and clubs, the Mayor of Miami-Dade county says, “not so fast!”
History of COVID-19 in Miami-Dade
It’s no surprise that with breathtaking beaches and year-round warm weather, Miami-Dade has become a haven for retirees and older Americans looking to escape frigid northern temperatures. While this makes for a laid-back, vacation-esque atmosphere, it also provides a county full of people vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19. South Florida is also home to a large number of multi-generational families, which increases the likelihood that COVID-19 will be brought home and spread to someone more vulnerable like a grandmother or great uncle.
Although the first few cases of coronavirus in Florida were announced a few counties north of Miami-Dade in early March, it was soon everywhere. In mid-March bars, clubs, and inside dining rooms at restaurants were closed across Florida, and Governor Ron DeSantis soon issued a directive placing limits on visitors to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Schools closed, and cases began spiking as the virus spread. By the end of March, Miami-Dade was under a stay-at-home order. As March came to a close, over 6,700 people had contracted the virus, 85 people had died, and nearly half of those were in Miami-Dade alone.
Cases continue to skyrocket
By mid-April, Florida reported over 26,000 cases and over 780 deaths. As DeSantis bizarrely began opening social locations across the state amidst staggering increases in case numbers, Miami-Dade continued to take a more conservative approach. The county began offering a program that allowed for those who tested positive and live in a multi-generational household to stay at a hotel, in order to avoid risking other family members. The same program allowed for those at risk from catching it from family members to be put up in a hotel on the county’s dime.
In July, as cases continue to spike alarmingly, the Mayor of Miami-Dade issued a set of New Normal Guidelines. The guidelines included requirements that residents wear a mask both inside and outside, and respect social distancing rules. Those who failed to follow the guidelines would be issued a $100 fine for a first-time offense, with escalating punishments for subsequent violations.
By September 10th, Miami-Dade alone had reported 162,894 cases. This places it behind only Los Angeles County for highest number of cases in a county in the United States. 2,789 people have died in Miami-Dade to date.
What will the mayor require for bars and clubs to re-open?
During a press conference on Wednesday, local NBC 6 reporter Carlos Suarez asked the mayor, “You said on bars and night clubs and face masks; that they would remain closed and that the mask mandate would stay in place until probably a vaccine. And I’m curious if one, you could elaborate on that comment. And two, how did you get to that? It’s conceivable that we might not have a vaccine within a year. So I’m just trying to get a better sense of how you arrived at that conclusion.”
Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez responds, “Well, because bars and night clubs, the activities there are not conducive to maintaining a six-foot separation. When you’re in a bar, you have to take off your mask to drink. And again, at a bar you’re not going to maintain a six-foot separation, and at a nightclub definitely not maintaining a six-foot separation. Those venues are really difficult. So I can’t foresee, I don’t foresee us opening bars and nightclubs for the foreseeable future, until we get a vaccine. Because I just think that’s a highly dangerous activity. Especially when you’ve got the music and you’re talking and yelling at each other to try to hear over it… …Bars and nightclubs will be very difficult. Where did I get that? I got that from talking to my medical advisors and common sense. It’s a very difficult thing to control, and rather unsafe.’
The mayor continued, “and wearing a mask? We’ll be wearing masks until we have a vaccine. I’ll tell you that, I’m pretty sure of that too. Because if not, we’re just gonna get another wave here. So the mask is the normal until there’s a vaccine. Once we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated, then we can go back to normal.”
Dr. Aileen Marty weighed in with her professional opinion as well, adding, “I’ll just say very quickly that it’s not just speculation. There’s good data from other countries in particular. In other settings, where bars and discos have been sites of major clusters for COVID-19. So, those are high-risk areas. The mayor is absolutely right. And he’s absolutely right that the mask is unfortunately… …our new normal until we have a safe and effective vaccine.”
So when will bars and clubs re-open?
The short answer is, nobody knows. Although President Donald J Trump has promised a vaccine by Election Day, experts caution against relying on that prediction. The Director of the National Institutes of Health promise that politics will not determine how fast or when a vaccine will be released. Six vaccine candidates are currently in late-stage trials, and experts suggest that we may have one by the end of the year, but some remain skeptical.
Although live entertainment venues being closed has caused suffering for artists and workers, Miami-Dade entertainers will have to keep waiting. The mayor has seen some of the worst the virus can bring to bear, and won’t be swayed before he’s sure his constituents are safe.