How will we know if reopening causes more coronavirus cases in South Florida?

Miami-Dade and Broward leaders say they’ll be keeping an eye on numbers, and contact tracing will be important

City and county leaders say they'll be keeping a close eye to make sure coronavirus cases don't spike now that Miami-Dade and Broward have joined Florida's reopening plans.

AVENTURA, Fla. – Now that Miami-Dade and Broward counties have begun reopening, a big question looms: How are we going to stay safe?

And if things get out of hand with further spread of COVID-19, whose job is it to pull the plug?

Broward Mayor Dale Holness and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez say they will be monitoring closely, knowing that as contact between people increases, so does the risk for a spike of new coronavirus cases.

“If we don’t follow [social distancing and CDC guidelines] that have gotten us where we are ... and we go back, we will have to close again, and that’s not something any of us want to see happen,” Holness said. “We must still take responsibility for ourselves, for our family and for our community to ensure we’re not spreading this coronavirus any further.”

Gimenez said Miami-Dade County plans to hire between 800 and 1,000 contact tracers and will do random county-wide sampling to see “where this virus is really at.”

Contact tracing is a state-run program to figure out where the COVID-19 hotspots are, and discussions are well underway between state and local leaders on how to get it going soon in South Florida.

“We will have a robust sampling program of the county and we will have a robust contact-tracing program in the county as well as all of the other data points we get every single day to see where we are on this fight, this battle against COVID-19,” Gimenez said.

Local 10 News reached out to the state, both counties and some large cities to ask about their specific plans for contact tracing.

Repeated inquiries to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and state health department regarding the state’s strategy — including how many tracers have been allocated to South Florida — have continued to go unanswered since Sunday.

“In terms of contract tracing, the state is the delegated authority and responsibility for contact tracing falls under the [Florida Department of Health],” City of Miami spokeswoman Stephanie Severino said. "In our subject matter expert group meetings with the Department of Health, and university epidemiologists, the DOH expressed their confidence in being able to contact trace effectively. As a municipality, we have been evaluating technology that would assist in contact tracing through a self-reporting system.”

Melissa Berthier of the City of Miami Beach responded: “The DOH reviews the data daily and they have several hundred staff dedicated to contact tracing. We have spoken with them and they indicated that if they see an increase in cases, they will investigate as to determine where the cases are coming from and possible causes. The new rules issued by the County have certain requirements that employers must follow if they have an employee test positive, and those requirements are also applicable to the businesses on Miami Beach. We have been and will continue to work closely with DOH as this moves forward and are in fact looking to bring some additional resources to support their effort.”

Individual cities have the ability to make some of their own rules as far as what does and doesn’t open, but Gimenez says it’s up to the county to make a call if we take a collective step back in terms of the number of cases.

“If we go backwards, they have to go backwards with us,” he said. “The cities cannot be any less restrictive than what Miami-Dade county is.”

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis says he hopes everyone will do their part to prevent that from happening.

“Let’s face it, we’re not going to be going into every restaurant every hour, we’re not going to post a police officer on every corner, were doing no bed checks, this is not what we’re about," he said. “Were not about criminalizing the recovery, we’re about trying to seek enforcement of the protocols that keep everyone safe and healthy.”

Said Holness: “What we need to be working towards still is getting to where we have zero new cases that have been tested positive for in Broward county — in the world, hopefully.”

ALSO SEE: Haircuts and eat-in dining resume as businesses reopen in Broward and Miami-Dade

About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."