South Florida cities impose new anti-COVID measures as Jackson shows signs of stress

Joey Flechas, Daniel Chang, Taylor Dolven, Nicholas Nehamas
·5 min read

As the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida continues to come into focus, cities in Miami-Dade County are ordering more stringent measures to stop the spread.

Miami city officials on Wednesday mandated that everyone inside grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores wear masks or face coverings. The emergency order applies to both employees and customers. Delivery workers and construction workers on job sites must also don masks.

Aventura issued a similar rule Wednesday that included restaurants. In Homestead, all residents are being urged to wear masks or other personal protective equipment while out in public. Sunny Isles Beach limited the number of workers on new construction projects to 10 or fewer and also limited work on occupied dwellings.

Speaking in Miami Beach Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised the city for instituting similar measures Monday in grocery stores and pharmacies.

“I think it’s smart. The grocery stores are packed and when you have close contact, that’s how the virus is transmitted,” said DeSantis, who also announced a new coronavirus hospital would be built at the Miami Beach Convention Center. “Having the mask, I think absolutely will cut down on the transmitability of that. We are working to get them more masks.”

The Florida Department of Health reported Wednesday evening that it had confirmed 15,698 cases statewide. DOH also reported 27 new deaths since Tuesday night, 15 of them from South Florida, raising the state death toll to 323. In Miami-Dade, there were 5,461 confirmed cases and 50 deaths. Broward County had 2,265 confirmed cases and 60 deaths. Palm Beach County, with 1,224 confirmed cases, had 69 deaths, the state’s highest number.

Local hospitals are showing signs of stress.

Jackson Health System was able to defer planned furloughs and pay cuts for non-clinical workers only after Miami-Dade commissioners said the taxpayer-owned hospital network could draw on a $150 million line of credit. Jackson Health CEO Carlos Migoya first announced the cuts last week, saying that the hospital’s finances were “devastated” by losses stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancellation of all elective surgeries.

“The early signs are encouraging enough that we have decided to delay implementation of our personnel actions,” Migoya said Wednesday.

The labor union that represents 5,000 doctors and nurses at Jackson had lobbied against the cuts. “Everybody thought this was crazy,” said Martha Baker, a registered nurse and the union’s president. Still, future cuts may be needed, according to Migoya.

Medical staff at Jackson were said to be sleeping in their cars and offices to avoid infecting their family members. On Wednesday, the family of Miami developer José Milton and United Property Management donated 300 apartment units for the medical staff to use temporarily during the pandemic, free of charge.

In the Florida Keys, five first responders with Islamorada Fire Rescue are in quarantine. The firefighters and paramedics had responded to a slip-and-fall call. Not all were wearing PPE. The victim later tested positive for COVID-19. Those five responders, now out of commission, make up nearly one-sixth of the department’s staff.

“Changed policy now so all crews go to all calls in full PPE, and hopefully we can stay ahead of the curve of burn rate versus supplies,” Islamorada Chief Terry Abel said in an email Wednesday.

In Key Largo, an additional five first responders were in quarantine because they were potentially exposed to someone with the novel coronavirus, their chief said.

Meanwhile, some passengers on the coronavirus-stricken Coral Princess cruise ship docked at PortMiami are still stuck on board. The Coral Princess docked four days ago. Princess Cruises, owned by Carnival Corp., has been moving hundreds of passengers off the ship on charter flights to comply with a new federal guideline that cruisers not fly commercial.

The company said in a statement Wednesday that it is working to get all passengers off the ship, a change from the plan in place when the ship docked Saturday morning that called for 27 sick passengers to remain on board until they recovered.

“We do not recommend that guests remain on the ship when it heads back to sea for marine operations, and local authorities will not authorize the use of local hotels, making timely approvals for repatriation critical,” the statement said.

An order from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez allowed hotels to accept reservations from displaced visitors during the pandemic. The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the discrepancy.

In other news Wednesday:

  • Broward Health opened a third mobile testing site at Central Broward Park, at 3700 NW 11th Place in Lauderhill. Those who want to be tested at the park must get a written prescription from a physician and then call the Broward Health line at 954-320-5730 to register for an appointment.

  • A paramedic was arrested after deputies say he “intentionally coughed” on a store employee in Florida. Christopher Canfora, 49, was arrested at his home in DeBary, near Deltona, according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. He’s charged with aggravated assault with intent to commit a felony. His cough was the “deadly weapon,” according to his arrest affidavit.

  • Two employees at Publix supermarkets, one in Cutler Bay and the other in downtown Miami, tested positive for COVID-19.

  • Seven arts organizations, including the Miami-based National YoungArts Foundation, have teamed up to create a $10 million relief fund for out-of-work artists. Artists from any discipline, including arts journalists, can apply for $5,000 grants.

  • Local governments across Miami-Dade are grappling with hosting virtual public meetings in ways that don’t exclude residents, particularly those without access to technology.

  • The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced a “mobile-friendly online application” for unemployment assistance available at www.FloridaJobs.org/RAApplication. The state’s unemployment system, weakened by years of cuts and mismanagement, has been overwhelmed as COVID-19 devastates South Florida’s tourist-driven local economy. Many laid-off workers have complained they cannot access the state’s unemployment website.