BY DOUGLAS HANKS, SAMANTHA GROSS, AND CARLOS FRÍAS
JULY 06, 2020 11:52 AM , UPDATED JULY 06, 2020 10:20 PM
Miami-Dade County restaurants must close dining rooms and gyms must shut down again this week under a planned emergency order Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Monday as he continues to retreat from a May reopening plan that’s been unable to prevent a surge in new COVID cases.
“We want to ensure that our hospitals continue to have the staffing necessary to save lives,” Gimenez said in a statement Monday.
The Gimenez emergency order had not been released as of 8 p.m., but the statement said it would take effect Wednesday and also require closures of Airbnb units and all other short-term vacation rentals. After pleas from restaurants, Gimenez agreed to exempt outdoor seating from the closure order, with tables capped at four people and music required to be low enough to prevent the kind of shouting that can spread airborne the virus.
The decree will keep beaches, offices, stores and hair salons open “for now,” Gimenez said, hinting at an even broader retreat from a reopening effort that began May 18 when most nonessential businesses were allowed to begin operating again.
With an economic slowdown already shuttering businesses amid high unemployment and cutbacks on spending, the county-ordered restaurant closures promise a second wave in the crisis hitting Miami-Dade’s hospitality industry. Collections of hotel taxes plunged nearly 90% in May, and sales at restaurants were down 60%. Miami-Dade’s restaurant industry employed about 67,000 people that month, roughly 6% of the county’s 1 million non-farm workers, according to state labor statistics.
”It is a hard blow. Now we are not going to have a livelihood,” said Lilly Gándara, who owns Spanish restaurant La Dorada in Coral Gables, with her husband, Domingo. “The restaurant is our whole life, it has been for 26 years, and we will continue fighting for it.”
TAKEOUT, DELIVERY MAY CONTINUE IN MIAMI-DADE RESTAURANTS
Gimenez’s first statement described. an end to table service: “I am signing an emergency order that will close restaurants (except for takeout and delivery services).” But in a meeting with restaurant owners Monday night, Gimenez also said he was leaning toward allowing table service outdoors for places where that’s an option, participants said. He confirmed the decision with a second statement released after 10 p.m. He said modifications to existing orders will “put the least economic strain possible” on businesses while “keeping the health and well-being” of the community the top priority.
His latest orders drew criticism from both sides for the Republican mayor running for Congress, with Democrats blaming him for an ineffective response and Republicans calling the shutdowns misguided.
“We continue to be two steps behind the virus rather than one step ahead,” County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said in a statement. “We have paid with pain and sacrifice, and the lack of leadership means we will have to go back to close our businesses again.”
Levine Cava, a Democrat running to succeed Gimenez, called for Miami-Dade to deploy contact tracers to track interactions with newly diagnosed COVID cases, and to provide isolation options for people who live in close quarters with others.
While Gimenez in May said he wanted 1,000 contact tracers working in Miami-Dade, he has yet to strike a deal with Florida’s Health Department to move the current number beyond the few hundred the state says are in place. The county did recently begin offering hotel rooms to let people with COVID isolate themselves from family, but the administration said only a few of those rooms are occupied at this point.
In Miami Lakes, Mayor Manny Cid urged Gimenez to reconsider pending closures. “This latest shutdown has the potential to destroy many small businesses,” the Republican said in a statement. “We should focus on enforcement, education and compliance with CDC guidelines”
A list of businesses closed for COVID violations by Miami-Dade police through late June shows 33 establishments were shut down. Of those, 22 were stores, hair salons or barbershops. Four were gyms and three were restaurants. The list released June 26 does not cover closures by city police agencies.
MIAMI MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Miami said it shut down six businesses over the weekend. The city’s mayor, Francis Suarez, said Miami-Dade needs a strategy for how to manage a COVID landscape where closures knock down infection rates only temporarily. “I think what’s important is we’ve seen that some of these orders work, but the question is, ‘What happens next?’ ” he said at a City Hall press conference. “In other words, we know that you can’t implement these orders forever, and we know that once you undo these orders, things go back to the way that they were.”
Marbet Lewis, a Coral Gables lawyer with a specialty in the spirits industry, said her restaurant clients still haven’t caught up from having to pay for the May reopening. “Reopening comes with certain costs. Investing in PPE. Investing in signage. Investing in new protocols and training,” she said. “They haven’t been open long enough to make up those costs.”
Miami-Dade’s COVID statistics have been on a grim trajectory since June, blowing through thresholds the Gimenez administration established in May to measure a manageable level of infection in Florida’s most hard-hit county. While Miami-Dade’s goal is to have fewer than 10% of a day’s COVID tests come back positive, 26% did on Sunday. Until July 1, COVID patients took up less than 50% of the county’s available intensive-care beds. Five days later, COVID patients occupied about 75% of available ICU beds.
Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University who helped Gimenez create his administration’s COVID reopening rules, said it will likely take weeks before drastic steps today show up in declining case numbers. That’s because it can take days before symptoms appear, and longer for someone to seek a test. With tests surging, labs are backed up and results can take a week or more.
“It’s hard to tell today if we’ve done enough,” she said. Marty said the surge in cases comes from people not being vigilant in following county rules, and not from failings on the new COVID regimens the county imposed on businesses in allowing them to reopen in May.
“The most frustrating part of all is we squandered all the pain, agony, and economic costs of the first lockdown by behaving inappropriately when we opened back up,” she said.
Last week saw Gimenez’s first unwinding of a reopening plan that he insists would work if residents would obey the existing rules. He shut down movie theaters, strip clubs, casinos, amusement parks and attractions, and ordered early closing times for restaurants and hotel pools.
In his latest statement, he blamed private graduation celebrations at home, “packed parties” at restaurants and the racial-justice protests that hit their peak at the end of May and the start of June. Miami-Dade has not released contact-tracing data to show the source of the county’s COVID cases, which grew by more than 2,000 Sunday.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who represents Kendall and surrounding areas in southern Miami-Dade County, said Gimenez is “doing what he has to do” given the lack of aggressive response from state and federal leaders.
“We are running after COVID instead of getting ahead of it,” said Taddeo, who owns a small translation firm in Miami and has yet to bring her four employees back to work. “The last thing we need for our economy is for us to have to shut down again. And it seems like we are going in that direction.”
Bill Ohlsen, owner of a Crossfit studio in Wynwood, lost about a third of his customers during the first shutdown. He said he and fellow Crossfit owners are considering legal action or civil disobedience to avoid a second one. “There are 16 or 18 of us, and nobody in this group has reported a single case,” he said, noting his studios have limited shared equipment and restrict clients to their own 10-foot squares to promote social distancing. “Malls are still open. Retail is still open. People are still walking by each other in the aisles at grocery stores.”
In his statement, Gimenez said Miami-Dade would remain under the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew he imposed last week ahead of the holiday weekend.
Gimenez specified office buildings, stores, and barbershops and hair salons would remain open under the new order. He emphasized that more closures could come quickly.
“Beaches will be open on Tuesday, July 7, 2020, but, if we see crowding and people not following the public health rules, I will be forced to close the beaches again,” he said.