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Debbie Murcarsel-Powell says South Florida is a hotspot due to the rush to reopen.

Coronavirus in Florida

South Florida leaders urge state to improve testing, contact tracing

U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel Powell and peers are hoping to regain control over COVID-19.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell led a delegation of South Florida leaders Monday urging coordinated action from Gov. Ron DeSantis and state officials to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mucarsel-Powell, who represents Florida’s 26th Congressional District, is a member of the bipartisan Congressional Coronavirus Task Force. Public health expert Dr. Aileen Marty, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Danielle Levine Cava and state Sens. Annette Tadeo, Jose Javier Rodriguez and Oscar Braynon joined her on a conference call, though none are on the task force.

“As I’ve said before, Florida is breaking all the wrong records,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “Yesterday, Florida reported the most new cases any state has seen in a single day. …Another 12,624 today alone. Yesterday, Miami-Dade set their own single-day record with 3,576 new cases. 

“Since Florida entered Phase One of re-opening, cases have gone up at least 1,237%. Miami-Dade’s hospitals are facing a crisis. The ICU capacity that has been reported is at 94%. The fact of the matter is now Miami-Dade is the epicenter of Florida’s coronavirus outbreak.”

The galling part, she said, is that health experts have always known what they need to do.

Mucarsel-Powell said testing has to be streamlined and made more effective, and the state will need many more resources to be able to conduct contact tracing. Florida will also need to identify hotels where visiting travelers can quarantine safely and where infected Floridians can stay without endangering their loved ones. At some point, Mucarsel-Powell said, Gov. DeSantis will have to relent and issue some kind of statewide mask order.

Levine Cava, one of seven candidates for Miami-Dade County Mayor, questioned why the state has not staffed an emergency field hospital like one set up in Miami Beach. 

“This is overwhelming our healthcare system and it’s leading to our residents rightly being anxious,” Levine Cava said. “We remain two steps behind the virus with our hospitals at their maximum capacity with the ICU beds. We cannot afford to be two steps behind. Lives are on the line.”

Dr. Marty, a professor at Florida International University, said that citizens need to be more aware of the risks they face in the midst of the pandemic. It will take coordinated action from people not just to lessen the risks for themselves but also for the rest of the people in their community.

“The tools that we have to be applied comprehensively,” she said. “This is not a ‘you just wear masks’ or ‘you just social distance’ or ‘you just clean your hands’ or ‘you just do contact tracing’ or ‘you just do testing.’ You need the whole package. You need a comprehensive strategy, and the main failure is …our problem with public perception of the risk of this virus. This is the big one.”

More than 3,000 new cases were reported in Miami-Dade County on Monday, and the leaders on the conference call expressed concern that the state may need to enact stronger measures.

Braynon, who represents Florida’s 35th Senate District, criticized DeSantis for choosing to downplay the extent of damage that COVID-19 is doing to citizens around the state. Braynon said his constituents don’t want to be told platitudes; they want to hear the ugly truth.

“We have been watching press conference after press conference from our leader at the state level where it feels like he’s making excuses for this,” he said. “We all want to know the silver lining. But we also want to be told the truth. We want to understand how dire this is.”

At one point in the call, Marty again hit on the issue of public perception. The job of contact tracing is getting harder day by day, and that’s partly because people who are asymptomatic don’t realize that they have COVID-19 and don’t realize that they might be spreading it.

“Many people are not aware of the fact that they’re infected,” Marty said. “And I say it that way as opposed to saying asymptomatic because people are not totally grasping what that means. They think asymptomatic means no problem. Just because you can’t perceive that you have something going on in your system doesn’t mean nothing is happening.”

Written By

Spencer Fordin grew up in Port Washington, N.Y. and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. Before working for FloridaPolitics.com, he spent 16 seasons with MLB.com and nearly three years as a general assignment reporter in the Cayman Islands. You can reach Spencer at SpencerFordin@gmail.com.

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