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Curfews, closures as COVID-19 burdens Florida hospitals

Lawmakers want statewide mask mandate

A sign is posted at a closed entrance to the beach during the new coronavirus pandemic, Friday, July 3, 2020, in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach, Fla. Beaches throughout South Florida are closed for the busy Fourth of July weekend to avoid further spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
A sign is posted at a closed entrance to the beach during the new coronavirus pandemic, Friday, July 3, 2020, in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach, Fla. Beaches throughout South Florida are closed for the busy Fourth of July weekend to avoid further spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

MIAMI – Florida's most populous county instituted an overnight curfew, and beaches and businesses began closing down again as the state's number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations keep rising, threatening a further spread during the festive Fourth of July weekend.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew begins Friday and will be in place indefinitely. The order closes casinos, strip clubs, movie theaters and other entertainment venues a month after they were allowed to reopen.

“This curfew is meant to stop people from venturing out and hanging out with friends in groups, which has shown to be spreading the virus rapidly,” Gimenez said in a statement.

On Friday, Florida reported 9,488 new confirmed cases and 67 deaths, a day after setting a new daily record with more than 10,000 cases.

The state health department’s tally of hospitalizations was higher Friday at 341 new admissions in Florida, one of the biggest daily jumps since the pandemic began. Gimenez cited staffing shortages at local hospitals in announcing the curfew.

“I met with our medical experts this afternoon to discuss what other steps we can take to stop the spread of virus infection and ensure that our hospitals have sufficient capacity,” he said Thursday. “At this time, we have plenty of beds, but some hospitals are experiencing staffing shortages.”

The mayor’s order also tightens mask rules at restaurants, requiring customers to wear facial coverings at all times unless eating or drinking. Under the previous order, customers were allowed to remove masks when they sat down.

Last week officials in Miami-Dade and other counties, including the Florida Keys, announced that beaches would be closed during the long July 4th weekend.

Gimenez said Miami-Dade police will be checking businesses throughout the holiday weekend to enforce mask and capacity rules, and closing establishments in violation.

“I do not want to go back to closing all but essential businesses, but the only way to avoid that is for everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” Gimenez said in a statement. “That means every generation - everyone of us, no exceptions.”

The latest county statistics show more than 1,300 COVID patients in Miami hospitals. Of those, 281 are in intensive-care beds, occupying about 63% of the ICU beds that would be otherwise available.

The state’s health department releases a daily cumulative tally of new hospitalizations of people who test positive for the virus, but does not provide statewide numbers of COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals, ICU beds or on ventilators. Ventilator use and ICU occupancy are key indicators of the severity of the outbreak because not everyone who becomes infected with the coronavirus develops serious symptoms.

The state releases daily reports on available ICU beds, statewide, by county and by individual hospital -- but those numbers don’t include how many are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Statewide, about 20% of ICU beds are currently available, though some hospitals have additional capacity that can be turned into ICU units if need be.

Health officials said they would begin releasing daily updates with more hospitalization data soon, but a spokesperson said Friday he did not know when.

Meanwhile, a group of legislators urged Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday to require Floridians to wear masks. The group of 10 Democratic lawmakers includes state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a South Florida lawmaker who announced Tuesday that he had been infected by the coronavirus.

They want the governor to make it mandatory for Floridians to wear masks to cover their noses and mouths while in public spaces, indoors and outdoors, when social distancing isn’t possible. The governor has thus far resisted those calls, even as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, another Republican, moved to do so on Thursday.

“This is not a partisan issue; this is an issue of life and death,” the legislators said in a letter to DeSantis. “This small but important gesture will have big consequences for the greater good.”