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South Florida mayors warn DeSantis COVID-19 situation will get worse before it gets better

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (left) and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber leave a roundtable discussion Tuesday, July 14, 2020, between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County mayors in Miami.

(The Center Square) – With south Florida the nation’s COVID-19 hot spot, Miami County mayors told Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday they could not issue emergency closures even if they had to.

And several said they may have to – soon.

“There isn’t a metric right now,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez said. “We’re going to be looking at, can we establish a metric that we can publish to the community to say, ‘Look, if we don’t get to this point by this time, we’re going to have to take additional measures.’ ”

Giménez and mayors of Miami, Miami Gardens, Miami Beach, Doral, Pinecrest and Bal Harbour met with DeSantis in a roundtable discussion at the Miami-Dade Government Center and told the governor they need his help in conveying justifications for a potential second lockdown.

“There’s a significant amount of pressure right now for us to shut down at some level,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. “We are at a critical juncture that if things do not improve quickly – over the next week or two – we’re going to be under significant pressure to do something like that.”

According to the Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 dashboard, 9,261 additional positive tests were reported Tuesday, boosting Florida cases since March 1 to 291,629, with 4,409 people dead and 18,498 people hospitalized, including more than 8,000 people now in hospitals.

Tuesday’s reported 132 deaths is the most reported in a single day in Florida, although variations in when deaths are reported does not mean they all occurred the same day. The previous high was Thursday, when 120 deaths were reported.

Miami-Dade County reported 2,090 additional confirmed cases and 32 deaths Tuesday, raising its tally to 69,803 cases and 1,175 deaths.

With positive test rates at 22.1 percent, and at 26.3 percent at one point last week, the mayors told DeSantis the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

DeSantis said he will not roll back from phase two of his three-phase reopening plan, but said local governments have his support to impose mandatory face mask and other safety protocols should circumstances demand.

Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III said the governor must emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

“Right now,” he said, “people don’t believe that actually can happen.”

Suarez and Gilbert leveled mild criticism at DeSantis, with Suarez saying Florida needs a new long-term strategy since “things have sort of not gone according to plan.” Gilbert said the state – and south Florida – reopened too soon.

“We weren’t closed long enough to actually create good habits,” Gilbert said. “We don’t have the habit now of wearing a mask. It should be second nature.”

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said he does not share DeSantis’ assurances schools can reopen safely next month.

“I’m not sure all of our parents feel like they know, frankly, if it’s going to be safe enough,” Gelber said.

DeSantis said parents won’t be forced to send children into classrooms with districts offering a range of options, including full-time online curriculum and distance learning.

The governor reiterated research indicates children are less susceptible to the virus and are not transmission “vectors.”

“That is just something I think that we should understand,” DeSantis said. “I think that that should be put out there, and I don’t think that we should try to scare parents and act like somehow that this is more of a threat to their kids than it actually is. It’s a serious pathogen overall, but for whatever reason, kids are at lower risk.”

Gilbert questioned DeSantis’ confidence.

“This conversation goes terribly different if one child contracts COVID-19 in school and dies,” he said.

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