MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Thursday that he has signed a $14 million agreement with the state to add an additional 250 contact tracers to Miami-Dade through the end of the year. That brings the total amount of contact tracers in the county to about 500.
The mayor said the county and state’s legal teams worked late Wednesday night to finalize the details of the agreement.
“I appreciate the governor’s commitment to helping expand contact tracing in South Florida, where COVID-19 has hit hardest,” Gimenez said in a statement.
The announcement comes two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis downplayed the county’s need for more contact tracers during a news conference in Miami.
“I have already green-lighted $138 million for the Department of Health to support not just contact tracing but other personnel,” DeSantis told reporters on Tuesday. “All the counties have gotten huge amounts of money from the CARES Act. The contact tracing is something that can be done.”
Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease physician with more than 30 years of experience in clinical medicine and pathology, told Local 10′s Christina Vasquez that authorities need to understand there is a need for “an army” of contact tracers in Miami-Dade County’s hot zones.
“We definitely do not have enough contact tracers,” Marty said “We are hovering at about 200.”
Marty said that number should be in the thousands, not hundreds.
“The estimates for what should be the number of contract tracers at this time in Miami-Dade is about 230 for every 100,000 people in the population, which would require that we would have over 6,300 contact tracers in Miami-Dade alone,” she said.
Q: How many #ContactTracers are needed in #Florida “in order to help society safely reopen and limit the size of future waves of the virus” per #publichealth experts? This tool 👇 helps #policyleaders answer that question: https://t.co/mmz6rvvm79 https://t.co/2qf5GG7LEu pic.twitter.com/pzAvcYDnDC— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) July 8, 2020
Marty explained that the public health tool is vital as leaders reopen the economy.
She said it’s especially important in this critical time of a Miami-Dade County rollback that was triggered by rising cases and pressure on ICU beds.
“If contact tracing proves barber shops are not to blame, we should not be closing down barber shops,” Marty said regarding the rollbacks.
Gimenez initially ordered fitness centers and restaurants to close, with the exception of delivery and takeout service. He has since allowed fitness centers to remain open with stricter requirements and is allowing outdoor dining at restaurants. Grooming services are permitted to remain open at this time.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Gimenez said DeSantis seemed to disagree about who was responsible for hiring and managing contact tracers in Miami-Dade.
Gimenez clarified Thursday that the contact tracers will work for the Florida Department of Health, but will be paid with Miami-Dade County funds received from the federal CARES Act.
“As I told the Surgeon General during a recent meeting, Miami-Dade County has been ready to step in and do whatever is possible within the state’s purview,” Gimenez said. “So, I’m very happy today that we are moving forward.”
A short time after the announcement, mayors of some of Miami-Dade County’s largest cities, including Miami, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens and Hialeah, held a news conference outside Miami City Hall, calling on more cooperation and transparency from the county.
They said contact tracers will provide critical data points needed to inform policy during this critical time.
“This spike is obviously because we don’t have sufficient contact tracers in the community to stop the spread, but we also need to know what they’re finding out,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said.
Suarez told reporters his city alone needs 500 contact tracers. He said contact tracers are not reaching all the people who have had interactions with COVID-19-positive patients, and those who are infected aren’t getting enough instruction about what to do next.
According to Gimenez, the county will soon be launching a voluntary “Community Empowerment Program” through an app in which its 2.8 million residents can track virus hot spots.
Further details about the program are expected to be released in the near future.
“All of these tools can help us tamp down the COVID-19 curve,” the mayor said. “Most important, all residents must take responsibility and help stop the spread of the virus by wearing masks in all public spaces — inside and outdoors — and maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet, as well as frequent hand washing.”
Gimenez is urging residents to do their part so the county’s positivity rate can finally go down. As of Thursday, Miami-Dade County’s confirmed COVID-19 cases increased by 1,987 to 55,961.
“If everyone does their part, we will see our positivity rate go down, our hospitals will not be overwhelmed, and we can start to reopen businesses guided by New Normal rules,” Gimenez said.