Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he won’t revive old business restrictions to fight worsening COVID numbers but will order county police to crack down with stricter enforcement.
“We’re not going back,” Gimenez said in a video address Thursday, his second in two days as coronavirus statistics continue to worsen in Miami-Dade. “We are going to get tough.”
The statement was the latest effort by the mayor to blunt Miami-Dade’s worsening coronavirus numbers with a call for residents and business owners to follow emergency rules crafted by his administration to reopen much of the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
After four weeks of businesses operating under the county’s detailed restrictions on capacity, social distancing and mask requirements, the statistics show a reversal in the COVID-19 statistics the mayor had tied to reopening.
Miami-Dade started June with only about 5 percent of the thousands of daily COVID-19 tests coming back positive. Gimenez’s reopening plan set a target of keeping that number to an average of 10 percent over two weeks. Almost every day in June saw the positive rate climbing higher, and the average now stands at just under 9 percent.
Hospitals also are seeing more COVID-19 cases, with 644 patients in the county’s latest daily report. That’s up 10 percent from the number of admissions two weeks ago.
Miami-Dade police have identified only scattered enforcement issues. The agency, which reports to Gimenez, said Thursday that its officers have visited businesses more than 370,000 times since the coronavirus emergency began in March, and issued 1,045 warnings. That meant offending businesses represented far less than 1 percent of the visits.
The agency also reported no citations tied to violations of Gimenez’s coronavirus emergency orders, which carry criminal penalties if violated. In his video message, Gimenez said police handed out “citations for non-compliance” with COVID rules, but his office later said the mayor was referring to warnings issued by police.
Police have required some warned businesses to close on the spot, but most generally reopen the following day once violations are fixed, said Gimenez spokeswoman Patricia Abril. The police business checks will continue, but Gimenez said he will be issuing a new order requiring county approval of a reopening plan once a business is closed for a violation.
“Miami-Dade’s education period is over. No more warnings,” Gimenez said. “From now on, when we see a violation, we close a business immediately. ... They won’t get a free pass to simply open again the next day.”
The week began with the mayors of Miami and Miami Beach warning that the countywide numbers looked troubling. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the city may ramp up its own efforts to have more businesses and residents comply with regulations.
“We are definitely looking at an enforcement campaign that deals with enforcement of all the rules,” he said.
At an appearance at a Doral coronavirus testing site earlier in the day, Gimenez said he planned to ask protest organizers to put more emphasis on anti-COVID measures during future events.
“Is there a direct correlation? Don’t know yet. But I’m worried about it,” he said, according to NBC 6 footage. “We will begin to give organizers some requirements, talk to them and say, ‘Look, we’d like for you to do this. Tell your participants to keep social distancing. We’re not going to limit the amount of space that you have.’ ”
Gimenez, a Republican candidate for Congress in Florida’s 26th District, is under pressure to do more to reverse recent COVID-19 trends. Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat running to succeed him in the nonpartisan mayoral race, urged Gimenez to “dig deeper” and beyond protests at the causes of worsening COVID-19 numbers. She asked for more information on the county’s effort to prevent coronavirus spread at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“We cannot let our guard down now,” she said.
Rebeca Sosa, a commissioner who has warned against Miami-Dade reopening businesses too soon, said she backed stronger calls for enforcement. “We have to make sure the rules are followed,” she said. “If not, the numbers will continue to get worse.”
Mark Trowbridge, president of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, said enforcement of social-distancing and mask-wearing rules has become a significant part of every business owner’s job. They have to walk a fine line between following guidelines for the safety of all and not offending non-compliant patrons. The last thing they want is another shutdown caused by rising case numbers.
“Enforcing the rules is completely contrary to the ‘customer-is-always-right’ mentality,” he said. “Instead you have to appeal to the ‘do-the-right-thing’ mentality, but people are frustrated and exhausted and one more perceived personal invasion could send them over the tipping point.
“If they walk in not wearing a mask, do you confront them and risk them walking out and never coming back? If they refuse to have their temperature taken, do you tell them to leave?”
Jill Hornik, owner of Jae’s Fine Jewelers on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, said she has a “Masks Required For Entry” sign on the front door of her store and restricts the number of customers inside to six at a time. She offers masks to customers who don’t have them, and only a few have resisted by asking, “Do we have to?”
“The answer is yes but it’s all about how you say it,” Hornik said. “Most people are willing to comply,” she said. “We haven’t had to ask anyone to leave.
“The vast majority of people will be conscientious but there are others who don’t care. It only takes one to infect many.”
Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.