Community leaders ask public to continue to wear face masks, social distance during pandemic

Local leaders worry about Phase 3 reopenings

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – South Florida’s medical community is asking the public to continue to social distance and wear face masks during the coronavirus pandemic. The concern is that a rise in cases as a consequence of careless behavior will again affect hospital capacity.

Martha Baker is a registered nurse who represents thousands of Jackson Health System employees as the president of the Service Employees International Union’s Healthcare Florida Local 1991. She said she is witnessing a disregard for the science on COVID-19.

“This is irresponsible of them,” Baker said about people who are choosing to avoid wearing face masks. “It’s like skydiving without a parachute and thinking you are going to be OK.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a supporter of President Donald Trump’s reelection, lifted restrictions on all businesses, including nightclubs and bars, on Friday. This resulted in large crowds of people who were not wearing face masks or social distancing over the weekend in both Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

“We’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease professor at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, said the new shift in behavior will mean a different trend on infections in about two weeks.

“You will start to see a rise in individuals who wind up having to come to hospitals,” Marty said, adding that Miami-Dade County is prepared.

Baker said she is worried because healthcare workers don’t know how big the inevitable peak is going to be. Aurelio Fernandez III, the president and chief executive officer of Memorial Healthcare System, said Broward County is prepared.

“We have adequate supplies. We have adequate equipment. We have staffing,” Fernandez said. “But it is the responsibility of the community at large to adhere to the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines to avoid any surge.”

DeSantis’ order prevents the counties from ordering bars to operate at less than 50% capacity and from fining people who are not social distancing or wearing face masks. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said DeSantis' order makes it almost impossible to reopen safely.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement that he is still consulting with the county attorney to see if the enforcement of face masks can continue as it had been before DeSantis' order.

“While [Gimenez] is respecting the governor’s words, he has also made it clear that the restaurants, and the bars and so forth, still have to meet certain guidelines,” said Marty, an infectious disease expert who serves as an adviser to Gimenez.

Broward County Mayor Dale Holness shares the apprehension of South Florida’s medical community and of local mayors.

“What we are trying to clarify is in terms of fines. It seems as though we can make the fine, but we can’t collect the money,” Holness said, adding “I am hoping that it doesn’t spike high.”

According to the Florida Department of Health, there had been 14,207 deaths related to COVID-19 in Florida. There have been 3,228 related deaths in Miami-Dade County and 1,380 in Broward County.

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