In Florida, hospitals are being stressed by the surge of coronavirus cases. Florida reported 11,466 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and 128 deaths of residents. It is the fourth day running the state saw more than 100 deaths.
The spike in cases is most acute in the Miami area. Miami-Dade County accounts for nearly a quarter of Florida’s 327,241 cases.
On Friday, Miami-Dade County’s daily “dashboard” report showed the number of patients admitted with COVID-19 at nearly 120% of ICU capacity. But Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez says actually, intensive care units still have beds available. “Hospitals have the ability to add hundreds of ICU beds,” he says by discontinuing elective surgeries and converting recovery rooms into ICU rooms. “We have 450 ICU beds normally but you have the ability to add another 500. Hospitals are adjusting on a daily basis.” Gimenez says there are no plans, for now, to activate a 450-bed field hospital set up at a convention center in Miami Beach.
Gimenez says hospitals have seen new COVID-19 admissions stay steady in recent days, a sign he hopes that cases may be peaking. In the meantime, the county is working to enforce public health rules, including mandatory face coverings. This week, it adopted an ordinance allowing police and code enforcement officers to issue $100 citations. Gimenez says, “That means you must wear a mask inside public places and outdoors, you must social distance or you may get fined.” In the hours after the order was passed, Miami-Dade County officials say they handed out dozens of citations and closed three businesses.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he supports guidelines requiring face masks in Miami-Dade and other counties. But, for weeks, as cases have surged statewide, he’s resisted calls that he issue a statewide order requiring face coverings. On Friday, twelve Democratic members of Florida’s Congressional delegation sent a letter to DeSantis calling again for a statewide mask order and stay-at-home orders in the hardest hit counties. In their letter, the lawmakers, including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Shalala say “closing part of Florida’s economy again would be painful.” But, “if we continue with the rate of infection we currently have in Florida, our economy will contract and shutter on its own.”
In Miami-Dade County, Mayor Gimenez says he’s waiting to see if stepped up enforcement and other measures, including a late-night curfew, are effective stopping the large gatherings and other behaviors that public health experts say are driving the surge in Florida and elsewhere. Any decisions to order further shutdowns, he says will be based on data, especially hospitalizations. “This is a balancing act,” Gimenez says. “Starting to shut down again could cause irreparable damage, irreparable harm to people and their livelihoods on a permanent basis.”