Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber sent a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday urging him to take action to improve on the competency of the state's contact tracing program in Miami-Dade County.
"Since we began our reopening, our number of infections, our positive testing percent, our hospitalizations, our ICU census, our ventilator census and our resident deaths have skyrocketed to unimagined levels," Gelber says in the introduction of his letter.
"A large part of the blame falls on an unprepared and understaffed contact tracing operation."
Gelber goes on to say that the contact tracing program has been unsuccessful in effectively reaching out to residents in South Florida in order to find out if they have been isolating and whether they have come into contact with others who may have been at risk for infection.
"A few weeks ago we were advised that on one day the “successful” connection rate was 17%. That means over 80% of those infected were never reached and have never been advised where or how to isolate; and, moreover, nothing was done to address their “close contacts” who might still be spreading the virus," Gelber writes.
He also notes that the program has not been as transparent as would have been desired, noting that it has been difficult to obtain data on contact rates and that multiple requests for information were needed for the state's Department of Health to respond.
"I appreciate that this pandemic has revealed many of the fault-lines of how we are organized as a state and nation to address a contagion disaster," Gelber continues, expressing frustration at his and other local officials' inability to effectively put large-scale public health regulations in place.
"This crisis was unexpected and, admittedly, tests the bandwidth of our resources. But it is very clear that the DOH contact tracing operation is not learning from its mistakes, is failing to develop best practices or even nominally adequate practices, and has been overly focused on not embarrassing its chain of command at the expense of doing its job."
He concludes by asking DeSantis two things: first, to bring in professionals who can administer the contact tracing operation effectively and help collaborate with local officials, and second, to bring in at least 800 contact tracers. Currently, Gelber says, there are around 300.
Gelber says that if action is not taken immediately, he believes it will be unlikely that schools will be able to reopen, or that South Florida will be able to avoid another round of shelter-in-place emergency orders.