Miami-Dade's mayor and his team of medical experts emphasized that the coronavirus outbreak in South Florida had reached a point of urgency due to a lack of public adherence to public health guidelines.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the experts spoke during a virtual news conference Monday.
"Our healthcare workers are getting sick," said Dr. Lilian Abbo, an infectious diseases specialist from the University of Miami Health System. "We need the community to understand, we're not trying to give you trouble (with these guidelines and regulations). Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic. Where Wuhan was months ago, that's where we are, and we really need your help."
Florida shattered the national record Sunday for the largest single-day increase in positive coronavirus cases in any state since the beginning of the pandemic, adding more than 15,000 cases as its daily average death toll continued to also rise.
The numbers came at the end of a grim, record-breaking week as Florida reported 514 fatalities — an average of 73 per day. Three weeks ago, the state was averaging 30 deaths per day. Since the pandemic began in March, 4,346 people have died in Florida of COVID-19, the state said.
At a news conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami Monday evening, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was interrupted by a protester as he discussed the latest increase in cases.
"I know many Floridians are filled with apprehension as they wonder what does this mean, what do these trends mean, for our health, for our families, and for our jobs, how long is this going to go on for, what's gonna happen with things like kids being in school. I hear ya," DeSantis said. "We're working nonstop to be able to respond to this crisis. We have to address the virus with steady resolve, we can't get swept away in fear."
Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious diseases specialist at FIU College of Medicine, said she believed that the public is not taking the threat of infection seriously enough, and that there has been a concerning level of resistance from people who have not wanted to wear masks and who have been in closed spaces without taking appropriate precautions.
She said that there's "growing evidence that there's a significant amount of virus in the air, teeny tiny droplets that accumulate when people breathe."
"If you're not wearing masks, like in restaurants, we run into this major problem of accumulating a large amount of virus floating around in the air, which makes those indoor spaces very dangerous," she added.
Dr. Tanira Ferreira, chief medical officer at the University of Miami Health System, said that "the city reopened in phases, and cases started increasing."
"We have requested the mayor to go back on those plans, because we've been seeing a surge in cases in the hospitals."
Dr. Marty also said that more contact tracers, better testing capabilities and more staff with ICU knowledge were all also urgently needed. "We need a comprehensive plan," she said. "It's not one thing, it's all of it combined."
Several of the experts mentioned that current testing is not as effective as it could be, since it often takes several days, if not weeks, for people to get their results.
"If you go out and get tested, and you're waiting for your results, please isolate yourself until you know," Dr. Ferreira said.
At a separate news conference Monday afternoon, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said a recent survey of 231 contact tracing reports showed that 36% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 were infected by family members.
Suarez said that while hospitals in the city were at over 90% capacity, the issue for the hospitals was staffing, not beds.
In response to a question about enforcement policies, Mayor Gimenez said that the Miami-Dade Police Department had done 6,000 inspections over the course of the weekend to ensure that businesses were complying with regulations.
He said the county was taking steps to make it easier for inspectors to hand out tickets to people who are not abiding by the rules, or shut down businesses.
"We need everybody to wear their masks, we need everyone to comply," he said, stressing the important of "self-enforcement" and good citizenry. "We need to be good citizens and safeguard each other, that's going to be a heck of a lot more effective than any enforcement that we do."
Gimenez said people could call 305-4-POLICE to report any instances of a business or party not complying to coronavirus guidelines.