Miami Scrambles to Pin Down Plan to Curb Covid-19 Spread

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

(CN) — Mayors from Florida’s Covid-19 epicenter on Tuesday pitched plans to stem the spread of the virus, outlining a ramp-up in contact tracing and a program to house residents with mild infections in hotel rooms. 

During an afternoon roundtable, Miami-Dade County leaders told Governor Ron DeSantis that Covid-19-linked hospitalizations are increasing to the point where blanket shutdowns may become warranted once more. 

The number of Covid-19 patients on hospital ventilators in Miami-Dade County was pegged at 220 Tuesday, doubling in the past 15 days. The rate of positive tests was reported to be 30% today, more than triple the weekly average rate recorded two months ago.

Miami-Dade reopened nonessential businesses in mid-May as part of its coronavirus recovery plan. But in response to the recent influx of Covid-19 positive patients, officials re-shuttered in-restaurant dining, gyms and short-term home rentals July 8. 

A 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is in place countywide.

“I will tell you that there is a significant amount of pressure right now for us to shut down at some level,” City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told the governor at the meeting.  

Suarez cited preliminary statistics indicating that a large portion of infected residents  contracted the virus from family members who live with them. He said that delayed test results — along with crowded conditions in low-income housing — has made it difficult for his constituency to follow guidelines on self-isolating when sick.

“As you know, some of them are not high-income people. They may not have the ability to isolate. They may not have the number of rooms in their apartment or in their home,” Suarez told the governor. 

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez in turn touted Miami-Dade’s buyout of local hotel rooms to house local residents with mild Covid-19 symptoms. The program is in part designed to prevent uncontrolled spread of the virus in homes with elderly or vulnerable family members, Gimenez said.  

“We need to do a better job of putting out the word that that program is there, so that if you do find yourself positive and you are living in a home [that] is crowded and it’d be really tough for you to self-isolate … we can give you a room. We can actually pay for that room. We have a couple hundred rooms for that purpose, and we’re willing to add more,” Gimenez said, fiddling with a mask that perpetually slips off his face.

The county announced in April that it was renting out rooms at Doral Inn and Suites and a Miami-area Red Roof Inn to provide housing during the coronavirus crisis. Early reports from the Miami Herald stated that the hotel space would be used to house elderly homeless residents and to provide a living space for health care workers concerned about spreading Covid-19 to their family.

Another key measure on the minds of Miami lawmakers at the Tuesday meeting was contact tracing on Covid-19-positive residents.

Suarez, Gimenez and DeSantis each acknowledged that the spread of the virus is so out-of-control in Miami that ramping up contact tracing won’t immediately curb infections. Down the road, however, an effective contact tracing infrastructure could help prevent another spike, they said.   

“It has spread enough that you really just need to mitigate and bend this curve in a different direction,” DeSantis said. “Once you do that, then as an outbreak happens, [contact tracing] can be beneficial.”

Miami-Dade last week announced that by the end of the year, it would have 250 new contact tracers working for it. The additional contact tracing would be funded with $14 million in federal money provided to the county for coronavirus relief.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said that if and when the current surge in cases subsides, hundreds more contact tracers would be needed in order to prevent another spike.

“I feel as though we need an enormous army of contact tracers,” Gelber said Tuesday.

Gelber lamented that he has been unable to get updates on Florida Department of Health efforts to track down and identify people who have been in close contact with Covid-19-positive patients.

“The Department of Health doesn’t really tell you the metrics of what they are doing with their contact tracing. Nobody in the public knows who they’re reaching, whether they’re getting close contacts, how they close each case, what they’re actually doing. There’s just no knowledge of that,” Gelber said.

Gelber said that any hope of restoring Miami Beach’s booming tourism industry is contingent on the outbreak being resolved “outright.”

Carlos Migoya, CEO of Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System, explained that a third of patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital have Covid-19.

The health system suspended elective surgeries at the beginning of July in order to make room for coronavirus patients. Migoya said that he is confident that the measure will allow the health system to maintain enough hospital capacity for severely ill inpatients.

The CEO added that staff at his Miami medical centers are spent.

“Our people, our health care workers have been at this now — we’re on our fifth month. And they’re tired, they’re stressed. … None of them want to lose one patient,” Migoya said. 

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