Miami-Dade, Broward, to see eased COVID restrictions despite widespread infections and deaths

Gov. Ron DeSantis traveled to Miami on July 7, 2020, to open the state's 12th COVID-specific nursing facility. Photo: Jonathan Warren/EyeEm

Miami-Dade and Broward, the counties with the largest numbers of infections and deaths that became the center of the coronavirus pandemic in Florida, will begin easing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

Whether residents and pubic health experts will go along with the plan isn’t clear, given the large number of COVID-19 cases.

But the move by the governor signals that the entire state may progress to the second of his planned three-phase plan to reopen Florida and boost the state’s economy. Palm Beach County — also part of Florida’s novel coronavirus hot spot but with fewer infections and deaths — has already reopened.

The governor signed an executive order allowing the two Southeast Florida counties to begin reopening.

He distanced himself from a report by the Florida Chamber of Commerce that he would begin “Phase 2” of his reopening plan on Monday.

“I don’t know what the Florida Chamber is saying. I go by the beat of my own drummer. I’m not singing their tune or anybody else’s tune,” DeSantis said. “I haven’t had any discussions about Phase 2.”

But he also suggested he was ready to reopen gyms, which isn’t permitted under the stay-home order the governor signed in early April. He promised another announcement on Friday specifically related at least to the gyms he’d closed in April.

And he characterized Phase 2 as “basically about opening up bars and some of those things.”

Furthermore, the Miami-Dade reopening plan envisions restaurants opening at half-capacity, compared to 25 percent under the standing rules.

“Our plan calls for 50 percent. The governor has said that he’s going to make an announcement tomorrow, and our plan is consistent with what he wants to do,” Mayor Carlos Giménez said.

Together with Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade and Broward has far outpaced the rest of the state in infections with the new coronavirus. The three counties also have the highest number of deaths in long-term care facilities, for both residents and staff. DeSantis excluded the three counties from his April reopening order, although he moved earlier to include Palm Beach.

As of Thursday, public health officials reported 43,210 Florida cases and 1,875 deaths related to COVID-19. In Miami-Dade, the numbers were 14,742 infections and 535 deaths; in Broward, they were 6,057 infections and 267 deaths.

Miami-Dade’s 182-page plan would also allow re-opening of manufacturing plants, warehouses, office buildings, and hotels — all subject to detailed sanitary and social distancing requirements. Face masks will be required for employees and customers.

Although the county has begun opening its parks, beaches would remain closed, as would spas, bars movie theaters, pools, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, or massage parlors, Giménez said.

Broward County’s plan tracks with Miami-Dade’s, except that Dade’s doesn’t mention gyms, Mayor Dale Holness said.

The counties and local cities are negotiating over when and how to open beaches.

DeSantis indicated that local leaders had presented him with their own plans and that he had approved them.

“They’ve progressed nicely in terms of dealing with the epidemic,” the governor said, having markedly reduced caseloads, the number of new positive cases, and other indicators. The counties have accounted for by far the largest caseload in Florida.

“This is a small step, but it’s not the final step. We’re going to get our mojo back and get back to where we need to be,” DeSantis said.

The governor emphasized that lately outbreaks have been clustered in prisons and especially nursing homes. He has been pressing for testing of every resident and staff member, although some of the latter have been resisting — from fear, Giménez said, of being sent into unpaid quarantine for 14 days.

Regarding gyms, DeSantis said: “This is a virus that, if you’re in good shape, you’re probably going to be OK. So why would we want to dissuade people from going to be in shape?”

Similarly, “outdoors is our friend, getting out and doing things there. The transmission is much more efficient in enclosed environments. So, Florida has nice weather — we should take advantage of that.”

In other comments, DeSantis said he has extended a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions through June 2.

He also delivered his usual denunciation of news reports conveying “doomsday predictions” and “panic-inducing clickbait headlines.”

Even people not directly affected by the disease have suffered in terms of missed weddings, high school graduations and proms, and other facets of daily life under the stay-home order DeSantis issued in early April, he added.

“This has been a very, very trying time, and people need to understand those folks have faced a lot as well. We need to make sure we’re back to where people can do those things again and people can live life to the fullest.”