As some South Florida counties see the worst COVID-19 rates since pre-vaccine 2020, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Wednesday that masks will again be required at all indoor county facilities.
Mask-wearing at public transit stations, on transit vehicles, and at county airports is still federally mandated per CDC order. How strictly Miami-Dade can enforce its reinstated masking rule at county buildings remains to be seen, as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ September executive order preempting localities from mandating the practice and levying fines still stands.
Asked during a 1 p.m. news conference in front of County Hall what Miami-Dade personnel will do if someone doesn’t follow the rule, Levine Cava said plainly, “I am going to enforce the mask mandate.”
The county “is not at the point of citations,” she clarified, and staff will try to uphold the rule peacefully.
Levine Cava said there are no additional rules for private businesses. She commended Jacqueline Pirolo, managing partner of Miami Beach restaurant Macchialina, for again requiring masks at the restaurant this week.
In another break from state policy, Levine Cava told reporters that she had also signed an executive order Wednesday requiring Jackson Health System, the county’s public hospital network, to again provide daily records on COVID-19 hospitalizations, bed capacities and ventilator use, among other key metrics.
Hospital workers she had spoken with are eager to again provide information on a day-to-day basis, she said.
“They are on the front lines,” she said. “And we are calling upon the state to provide us more frequent data so we can better monitor.”
Much of the 50-minute news conference centered on vaccination efforts. Levine Cava and other local leaders stressed how important it is for residents to get vaccinated. The bipartisan group pointed to a rise in hospitalizations of “otherwise perfectly healthy” but unvaccinated people who caught the more deadly delta variant, which spreads 225% faster than the original virus.
Miami-Dade reported more than 11,000 new COVID-19 cases last week. Its positivity rate — the share of tests for the virus that come back positive — grew by 2½ percentage points to 10.1% last week. That’s the highest it has been since early January at the end of the winter surge.
In step with that, Miami-Dade announced Sunday five additional mobile testing and vaccination sites offering Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson shots.
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández said he has seen more people lining up to be tested than to be vaccinated, and his patience is wearing thin.
“It’s a little frustrating to be standing here a year later … when we have a COVID-19 vaccination, and it’s frustrating to continue sending the message that part of our family here in Miami — and we are a family — are affecting the rest of us,” he said. “For religious beliefs, political beliefs, misinformation, whatever it is (they’ve) chosen not to be vaccinated. Let’s take personal responsibility. Let’s get to wearing masks. Please get vaccinated. Let’s get back to social distancing.”
Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who self-quarantined after contracting the delta variant, warned against taking the virus lightly.
“I can tell you; it’s no fun,” he said. “We have to protect (others), and this is one way of protecting them, with a mask. But the best way is getting the shot. If I hadn’t gotten the shot and I caught the variant, who knows what would have happened.”
Diaz said he recently lost a personal friend to the virus who had refused to get vaccinated. The friend was healthy, he added, and thought nothing could bring him down.
“Well, COVID-19 did,” Diaz said. “He lasted 30 days intubated before he passed. So, if that doesn’t get to you and it’s not important about you, please make it about the loved ones around you.”
Miami-Dade leads Broward and Palm Beach counties in vaccinations, with 76% of its populace age 12 and older vaccinated. But the county will continue to work with cities, businesses and community leaders to help encourage vaccinations, Levine Cava said.
The county is also convening local university presidents for on-campus vaccination plans.
“We have all come too far,” she said. “We have all sacrificed too much, and we cannot turn back now.”
North Miami Beach Mayor Anthony DeFillipo, who serves as secretary for the Miami-Dade League of Cities, said the organization supports Levine Cava’s reinstated masking rules.
“We have come too far. We have paid the ultimate price in our communities. Businesses have closed. Our economy has been impacted drastically,” he said. “If there was ever a crucial time where each and every one of our cities needs to come together and react, the time is now.”