Mayors discuss how to reopen South Florida as businesses wait for the green light

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Kenny Sager runs Austin Burke, a men’s clothing store that’s been a Miami staple for decades. He says his business was having a solid year — until the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We’ve been out of work for like six weeks now, and I have no income coming in for my employees,” he said. ”It was so beautiful, we were doing business, I have 20+ employees, my partner and I were coming in, it was like Christmas every month. And when this hit it completely shut down.”

Sager is among many business owners who were hoping for good news Wednesday when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his plan to reopen Florida. They found out they’ll have to wait longer as stay-at-home orders won’t be lifted in Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties yet.

So far, local leaders have voiced agreement with the state’s approach.

During a chamber of commerce virtual roundtable Thursday involving the mayors of Miami Beach, the City of Miami, and Miami-Dade County, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said that when reopening does happen, it’ll need to be done slowly, as medical experts say we’re ready.

"The governor was very specific in his message yesterday where he said that South Florida is not ready yet, and that’s why his order didn’t apply to South Florida, which I think was the right thing,” said Suarez, who did not join the county in opening parks and open spaces this week.

The roundtable was hosted by Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Alfred Sanchez and moderated by Government Affairs Committee Chair Jose Bermudez.

The mayors discussed how to restart South Florida’s economic engine and how to do it in a safe and healthy way.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he is looking forward to getting residents to a new normal and that reopening some parks, marinas and golf courses Wednesday shows the people of Miami-Dade that there is “light at the end of the tunnel.”

“You know, I went out and checked on various locations and I was pleased to see that people — our residents — are basically following the rules,” he said. “We have invested heavily in making sure there is enforcement in these outdoor spaces so that we can continue to tamp down on this virus.”

Gimenez said the physical and mental health of residents is his top priority and that medical experts have been heavily consulted throughout the decision-making process.

“Medical experts agree that people need fresh air, they need sunshine and exercise to really thrive in these challenging times,” he said.

Gimenez said even after businesses reopen, social distancing measures will still be in place for some time and every household in Miami-Dade County that has a registered voter will be sent a notice about how to register to vote by mail to prevent large crowds on Election Day.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said his community is a little different than other parts of the state because of the millions of people who flock to the tourist destination every year.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber speaks during Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce roundtable on coronavirus crisis. (WPLG)

“We are not built for social distancing. We are built for the opposite,” he said.

Gelber said he is not willing to reopen places simply because of frustration, but said the city agreed to reopen some parks following Gimenez’s executive order this week because the city’s boardwalk was getting crowded.

He said there are now restrictions on how many people can be on the boardwalk at a time.

Gelber also stressed that city officials do not want to rush to reopen businesses only to have another outbreak occur.

He said they are consulting with medical experts and one of his prime focuses right now is on contact tracing to prevent further spread of the virus.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients with suspected or confirmed infection. In contact tracing, public health staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious.”

Click here to read more about contact tracing.

City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez speaks during Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce roundtable on coronavirus crisis. (WPLG)

City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez agreed with Gelber, saying the city also needs to ramp up testing and do contact tracing before reopening more businesses.

“We are the densest city in Miami-Dade County,” Suarez said, noting that Hialeah and Miami Gardens are also among the county’s densest cities and have taken similar preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Suarez said he and city officials have been looking at what other governments are doing and he wants there to be a coherent strategy to fight the virus in Miami-Dade County, although some leaders may disagree with each other on certain matters.

Suarez also mentioned the steps the City of Miami has taken to prevent the spread of the virus, including by being the first city in Miami-Dade County to implement a curfew and the second one to require people to wear face coverings in public.

“I think because of that our data indicates that our peak was slightly before the state and then the county, at least in the data that we’ve been given,” Suarez said.

On Miami Beach, they will discuss Friday a resolution brought forward by commissioner Ricky Arriola that would ask Gimenez to re-open public beaches in their city at certain times. So far, the beaches have remained closed.

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