Miami’s mayor worries about the risk of rising COVID-19 cases as the state drops restrictions on restaurant and bars
As Florida restaurants and bars enjoyed their first full day of operation without COVID-19 restrictions in months, the mayor of Miami warned that the governor’s decision to fully reopen such establishments and to limit local governments’ ability to enforce their own restrictions could have devastating consequences.
“I think it’s going to have a huge impact,” Mayor Francis Suarez told CNN Saturday about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to allow restaurants, bars and other businesses to open at full capacity and to suspend fines for all outstanding penalties issued to those who didn’t follow COVID-19 restrictions — such as not wearing a mask in public. “You know, I just don’t know how many people are actually going to do it now.”
DeSantis signed an executive order on Friday evening allowing restaurants and bars to immediately begin operating at 100% capacity. He cited the economic hardships of not operating businesses at full capacity, according to the order.
The opportunity to fully reopen was welcomed by some restaurant and bar owners who said their businesses have suffered over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Being closed six months has been really difficult for the employees, the customers, the family. It’s been really difficult,” Mike Penrod, the owner of the Elbo Room bar in Fort Lauderdale, told CNN affiliate WSVN on Saturday.
Gaffer’s Pub in Davie, Florida, was also closed for six months, owner Debbie Qualls told CNN affiliate WPLG. And while safety remains a top priority, she said reopening is going to save her business.
“We’ve had to pay the rent, the electric, all the bills,” Qualls said. “If it was too much longer, we wouldn’t be here.”
The governor’s order came as experts have warned of a potential surge in coronavirus cases across the country as fall and winter approach, driven by increased indoor activity due to falling temperatures and growing apathy toward the threat of the virus.
Florida surpassed 700,000 cases of coronavirus on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, and the virus has killed more than 14,000 people in the state.
Up until now, mandating mask-wearing in public and slowly reopening has helped to keep the coronavirus case count down in Miami, Suarez said. He’s concerned that the changes in the state are coming as flu season ramps up and schools prepare for in-person learning to begin in mid-October.
“We’ll see in the next couple of weeks whether (the governor’s) right about his perspective. But if he’s wrong about his perspective … it’s going to be very, very, very difficult for him and it’s going to be a very difficult time, because it’s in the middle of flu season,” Suarez said.
On a national level, the US surpassed 7 million infections of COVID-19 on Friday. More than 204,000 people have died.
As of Sunday, the number of new COVID-19 cases has increased by at least 10% or more compared to the week before in 21 states, most of them in the West.
Eighteen states were holding steady. Only 11 — Arizona, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire — saw decreases of new cases of more than 10% compared to the week prior.
A winter surge could be on the horizon
New York state on Saturday reported more than 1,000 new cases for the first time since early June, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to warn residents about growing complacent going forward.
“It’s vital that New Yorkers continue to practice the basic behaviors that drive our ability to fight COVID-19 as we move into the fall and flu season,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Wearing masks, socially distancing and washing hands make a critical difference, as does the deliberate enforcement of state guidance by local governments.”
Neighboring New Jersey also reported 760 new cases Saturday — the highest daily case count since early June, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The US could see an explosion of COVID-19 cases in the fall and winter as people exercise less caution and spend more time indoors, where there is a greater likelihood of transmission, according to Dr. Chris Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
Murray says the IHME model shows a “huge surge” expected to take off in October “and accelerate in November and December.” The IHME model indicates that the country is currently seeing about 765 daily deaths from COVID-19, but that number could jump to 3,000 daily deaths by late December.
Over the summer, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield warned the fall and winter could be “one of the most difficult times that we experienced in American public health.” And with daily cases averaging 40,000 nationwide, the new season could be a challenge, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
“You don’t want to enter into the fall and winter with a community spread at that level, because if you do, you got a difficult situation that’s going to be really challenging,” Fauci told JAMA Editor in Chief Dr. Howard Bauchner.
A winter surge could already be brewing in Europe, Murray said.
“Cases are exploding there. So we know it’s coming and we expect it to hit the US pretty soon,” Murray said.
Normal could be a long way off — even with a vaccine
Fauci says COVID-19 vaccinations could “very likely” start in November or December. But it could still be a while until the US is back to normal.
“By the time you get enough people vaccinated … so that you can start thinking about maybe getting a little bit more towards normality, that very likely, as I and others have said, will be maybe the third quarter or so of 2021,” he told Bauchner. “Maybe even into the fourth quarter.”
In the meantime, Fauci and other leading experts have urged Americans to continue heeding safety guidelines and wearing masks, keeping a distance, avoid crowded places and washing their hands.
The measures could be life-saving.
Redfield said this week, preliminary results of the first round of a study show more than 90% of the US population remains susceptible to COVID-19. And a study published Friday in The Lancet found as of July, fewer than 10% of people in the US had antibodies to the virus.
“This research clearly confirms that despite high rates of COVID-19 in the United States, the number of people with antibodies is still low and we haven’t come close to achieving herd immunity,” one of the study authors, Dr. Julie Parsonnet, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, said in a statement.
“Until an effective vaccine is approved, we need to make sure our more vulnerable populations are reached with prevention measures.”