The city of Miami Beach is “concerned” about a string of new coronavirus cases in its workforce, mainly among police and fire-rescue personnel.
Twenty-three city employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last seven days, up from three cases the week before, according to city data.
By comparison, 20 new COVID-19 cases were reported by the city during the one-week period ending July 3, the day Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez imposed a 10 p.m. curfew as cases spiked over the summer.
City Manager Jimmy Morales, who has led Miami Beach’s response to the pandemic, addressed the new cases in two memos emailed to the City Commission on Sunday and Tuesday. He said the number of new cases among city employees appeared to be “accelerating.”
“I am concerned about a surge in cases as we saw in late June and July,” he wrote in one of the memos.
Of the 26 new cases the city reported in that two-week period, 19 were reported in the police and fire departments. Commissioner David Richardson, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, accounts for the only active case in the Office of the Mayor and Commission.
Miami Beach police officers at South Pointe Beach on Sunday, August 2, 2020.
The new rash of cases in Miami Beach comes amid an “apparent third wave of COVID-19 nationally,” Morales said in one of the memos, referring to the record-high number of new cases recorded in the U.S. on Oct. 24. In Miami-Dade County, new COVID hospitalizations have increased over the last two weeks.
“We are not out of the woods with this by any stretch of the imagination,” Richardson said Wednesday during a virtual commission meeting. “We are still in the middle of a pandemic.”
Police Chief Richard Clements told commissioners that the rise in new cases has strained police resources. When an officer tests positive for COVID-19, their “close contacts” are sent home as well. On Friday, 23 members of the department were in isolation. By Tuesday, that number rose to 45, Clements said.
To reduce the risk of exposure, police leaders have “discouraged” officers from visiting the station for roll calls or meal breaks, a department spokesman said.
“We are seeing it internally, how the virus is affecting us,” he said at the meeting. “I do worry about, obviously, more officers being infected over time.”
The topic came up Tuesday evening as part of a discussion about the enforcement of Miami-Dade’s midnight curfew. The order was overturned by a trial judge Oct. 16 but remains in effect pending a ruling from Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.
While the city of Miami has stopped enforcing the curfew following the trial court decision, Miami Beach is currently enforcing a 12:30 a.m. curfew for businesses. It considers the midnight curfew a “soft” closing, Morales said. The city no longer enforces the curfew on individuals, following a Sept. 25 executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis restricting local COVID rules.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber listens as City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez speaks during a COVID-19 press conference outside of Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove, Florida, on Monday, June 22, 2020. A total of 15 Miami-Dade mayors gathered to announce stricter enforcement of COVID-19 rules across the county.
Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who proposed that the city stop enforcing the curfew, said business restrictions jeopardize people’s livelihoods and do little to stem the spread of the virus. Clements said the curfew has helped police “keep order” in the city amid “rising infections” in the department.
“My concern is that we’re putting our businesses at a competitive disadvantage, and I don’t think we’re making anybody any safer by enforcing the curfew,” Arriola said.
Mayor Dan Gelber, who expressed sympathy for struggling business owners and employees, said the “gradual uptick” in the spread of COVID-19 requires the city’s full attention.
“It’s a health and safety decision — and nothing else,” Gelber said.