Miami Puts Brakes on Reopening as Florida Virus Cases Pass 200K

As Miami-Dade County’s mayor announced new restrictions spurred by a surge in coronavirus cases, Florida’s Republican governor highlighted the state’s low death rate.

A group of people, wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, walk along a beach path on Miami Beach’s famed South Beach on July 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

(CN) — The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Florida surpassed 200,000 on Monday, a troubling milestone that prompted a Miami-area mayor to reverse the march toward economic reopening.

The Florida Department of Health reported 6,366 new cases since Sunday morning — a slight drop after days of more than 10,000 cases — bringing the total number to 206,447.

Health officials also recorded 48 more deaths. More than 3,700 people in the Sunshine State have died from the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, state records show.

The dramatic rise in cases — almost every day last week saw a new record – directly followed the state’s second phase of reopening on June 5.

Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, continues to see the greatest number of cases, despite a slower reopening than the rest of Florida.

On Monday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced an executive order closing all restaurants, except for takeout and delivery, along with gyms, party venues and short-term rentals.

“We can tamp down the spread if everyone follows the rules, wears masks and stays at least 6 feet apart from others,” Gimenez said in a statement. “I am counting on you, our 2.8 million residents, to stop the spread so that we can get back to opening our economy.”

Last week, Gimenez closed all county beaches ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. The beaches are supposed to reopen on Tuesday, though Gimenez threatened to close them again if people did not follow social distancing.

A pedestrian wearing a mask walks down Ocean Drive on South Beach on July 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Miami-Dade County also has a face mask mandate for indoor establishments and an overnight curfew.

Still, each day brings a new record number of cases in the county, largely fueled by a younger demographic who are asymptomatic or experience light symptoms.

Gimenez blamed that age group for “graduation parties, gatherings at restaurants that turned into packed parties in violation of the rules and street protests where people could not maintain social distancing and where not everyone was wearing facial coverings.”

So far, Miami-Dade and other South Florida counties have more than 20% available bed capacity at hospitals, but some systems will stop elective surgeries this week.

During a press briefing in central Florida on Monday, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis made no mention of Miami-Dade’s new restrictions or any new measures to slow the spread of the virus statewide.

Instead, the governor highlighted expanded testing and praised the state’s low death rate.

“As you see cases, people should just put it into context about what’s going on,” DeSantis said from UF Health Hospital in the Villages. “There’s no need to be fearful about it.”

He said the numbers of cases seems to have “stabilized” and there is no need to roll back the state’s reopening.

“Florida is a diverse state,” DeSantis said. “It’s not an even epidemic around the state.”

He also declined to delay the July 11 reopening of Disney World.

“We can have society functioning in a way that keeps people safe,” he said.

Florida joins dozens of other states experiencing a spike of cases, which prompted an open letter from three of the country’s top health care associations urging the public to continue following public health requirements.

The letter penned by the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association credited face masks and social distancing for the declines in infections and deaths during April and May.

“But in the weeks since states began reopening, some of the steps that were critical to the progress we made were too quickly abandoned,” the letter said. “And we are now watching in real-time as a dramatic uptick in Covid-19 cases is erasing our hard-won gains.”

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