FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Florida's largest county is again severely limiting its restaurants and fully closing gyms and other indoor venues weeks after they reopened because a spike in coronavirus cases is creating a shortage of intensive care unit beds at its hospitals.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday that starting Wednesday, restaurants will be limited to outdoor dining, takeout and delivery service and gyms, banquet halls and short-term vacation rentals like those available on Airbnb will be closed. Bars are already closed statewide and restaurants were limited to 50% capacity indoors.
Gimenez had initially said that restaurants would be closed to all dining but in a statement Monday evening the mayor said that after meeting with medical experts and the restaurant industry group that his emergency order “will allow for outdoor dining, where possible, to continue with restrictions." Those limits include no more than 4 people at a table with appropriate distancing and music to be played at a level that does not require shouting.
Like much of the state, Miami-Dade's restaurants had reopened with capacity and social-distancing restrictions in mid-May, while gyms reopened about a month ago. During that time, the county's daily rate for confirmed cases skyrocketed from about 300 a day to more than 2,000.
Miami-Dade County now has more than 1,600 hospitalized coronavirus patients, double what it had two weeks ago. Of those, 331 are in intensive care and 168 are on ventilators, figures that have also doubled. Miami-Dade has been the state’s hardest-hit area along with its South Florida neighbors, Broward and Palm Beach counties. They have also seen recent spikes.
Dr. David De La Zerda, a pulmonologist at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, said if the new infection rate isn't slowed, his hospital soon won’t have enough rooms or ventilators and the staff will be stretched thin.
“COVID patients require more nurses, more respiratory therapists. The nurses need to check on them more often,” De La Zerda said.
Gimenez blamed his county's spike on young adults visiting restaurants and other indoor gathering spots without wearing masks and not practicing social distancing. He also blamed the recent protests over the death of George Floyd while he was being arrested by Minneapolis police. People under 35 are significantly less likely to die from COVID-19 than those over 65, but they can spread the disease to their older family members, co-workers and friends.
“We can tamp down the spread if everyone follows the rules, wears masks and stays at least 6 feet apart,” he said in a statement. “If you don’t have to go out, remember, you are safer at home.”
Gimenez, a Republican, is running to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. She said Gimenez reopened the county too soon “just to please” President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“This is failed leadership. Our community deserves better,” she wrote Monday on Twitter.
Miami-Dade's announcement came shortly after Florida recorded 6,336 new confirmed cases statewide, raising the total to 206,447 since the state's outbreak was first identified March 1. The state says 3,880 people have died from the virus.
Over the last week, about 43 Floridians a day have died of the disease, up from 30 a day three weeks ago but still below the 60 a day recorded in early May. Hospitalizations are up about 40% statewide over the last two weeks.
Part of the reason for the spike in the raw number of infections is more people are being tested: 45,000 a day, about double the figure of a month ago. But the positivity rate for tests is increasing far quicker: for the past week it has been more than 18%, four times higher than a month ago when the weekly average stood at 4.6%. A month ago, the state was averaging about 1,500 new confirmed coronavirus cases a day.
Gov. DeSantis, speaking at a Monday news conferences at The Villages, the mammoth retirement community northwest of Orlando, said while he wants to get the positivity rate back to its earlier levels, he echoed Gimenez in saying much of the increase is among younger people who are less likely to die. The median age for those testing positive statewide has dropped from the mid-50s to the mid-30s, he said.
He said 21 is the No. 1 age for testing positive in Florida, an age where the death rate is near zero unless the person has underlying health issues like heart disease or diabetes. He said that has helped keep the daily death toll below the early May peak when nursing homes were seeing many deaths.
“From a clinical perspective, a thousand cases under the age of 30 is going to be less significant than 50 cases in a long-term care facility," he said.
Since the outbreak began, an average of 30 Floridians have died per day from COVID-19, which makes it one of the state's biggest killers.
Using 2018 Florida Health Department statistics, the last year available, coronavirus' daily death toll would rank sixth behind heart disease (128 deaths a day), cancer (123), stroke (36), accidental injury (34) and chronic lung disease (33).
But coronavirus is easily the state's deadliest infectious disease, killing nearly three times more Floridians than flu/pneumonia (8 a day), AIDS (2) and viral hepatitis (1) combined.
Gomez Licon reported from Miami. Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.