South Florida’s businesses bear burden of helping to save lives during pandemic

Financial limbo begins as public health measures to prevent COVID-19 cases get stricter

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – As the sun sets over Lincoln Road on Thursday in South Beach, there was an eerie sight. The pandemic turned the bustling pedestrian mall into a ghost town.

Popular stores like Apple, Nike, Sephora, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Anthropology and Zara closed for business. The outdoor sitting areas of restaurants like Rosinella and Doraku were gone.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has been gradually shutting down the local economy to help stop the spread of COVID-19, a deadly respiratory illness that has killed nine people in Florida.

“The economic impact is going to be great,” Gimenez said. “We have to do this. We just surpassed 100 cases in Miami-Dade.”

The only businesses that are allowed to stay open, for now, are grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, hardware stores, laundromats, auto repair shops and dealerships with service centers.

“Car services are an essential service because that’s how we get around,” Gimenez said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Broward and Palm Beach counties will be following Miami-Dade’s new measure to close all “non-essential” businesses.

The austere new measure is devastating to Tony Lockhart, who owns to beauty salons in Miami-Dade County. She doesn’t know if she will be able to open the businesses again after the pandemic is under control.

“To close right now couldn’t have happened at the worst time, but there is more important things than that,” Lockhart said about the financial loss. “We all gotta do it, stay home. You do it for us, we do it for you, for everyone.”

Also closed for the foreseeable future are all Miami-Dade Parks -- even the beaches. DeSantis has been reluctant to close the parks statewide.

“We tried to keep our beaches open but coming with the weekend, and the kids are out of school, I was afraid we were going to have a situation similar to what happened on Miami Beach and so it’s better that we just keep all beaches closed right now,” Gimenez said.

Hisham Sagbane was trying to get as many clients in as he could before closing his hair salon Thursday night in Coconut Grove. He was trying to stay positive. Tatiana Rios, a nail technician in Brickell, said she is afraid she and her two children could end up homeless.

“It’s a paycheck to paycheck situation,” Rios said. “If you would have told me this was going to happen last month, I would have told you, ‘You are crazy.’ But it is happening and well, I have family who is going to need to help us.”

The scenario was also grim for many workers who depend on the travel industry in South Florida. According to the U.S. Labor Department 281,000 people were seeking unemployment as of March 14. The International Labor Organization forecasted a $3.4 trillion loss in income for workers by the end of the year.

“We’ve gotta take these measures in order to slow the spread here in Miami Dade and keep our senior citizens as safe as possible,” Gimenez said."

Public health officials said that as the availability of testing increases, so will the number of COVID-19 patients. On Thursday night, the Florida Department of Health reported the Centers for Disease Control and Protection confirmed 101 cases in Miami-Dade County and 96 cases in Broward County.

Officials announced a COVID-19 patient died in Duval County raising the number of deaths in Florida to nine.

Negotiations for the 247-page CARES Act, which Trump promised will provide financial relief to workers and small business owners, industry giants and banks, will start on Friday.

About the Authors:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."