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The South Florida Roundup

Is Miami-Dade County Ready To Reopen Indoor Dining Rooms?

A waiter serves two men sitting inside a restaurant in Doral during an initial reopening in May 2020.
Charles Trainor Jr.
via Miami Herald
Tap42 restaurant opened in Doral after being closed due to the coronavirus outbreak in May. Miami-Dade is allowing restaurants to bring back indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, starting Monday.

Local governments across South Florida are working to ease some coronavirus restrictions. Miami-Dade is the latest, reopening indoor dining rooms after a first attempt early this summer.

Indoor dining rooms in Miami-Dade can reopen next week at 50 percent capacity. It will be the first time their dining rooms will be open since early July.

Miami-Dade is the last of the South Florida counties allowing restaurants to reopen.

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On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious diseases specialist at Florida International University and Miami-Dade coronavirus task force member, about this latest attempt at reopening.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: Is the county ready for indoor dining to reopen at half capacity?

DR. AILEEN MARTY: We're being cautiously optimistic and emphasis on the word "cautious," because the reality is that while we are so much better than we were a month-and-a-half ago, we are still twice as bad right now in terms of hospital admissions, positivity rates, viral load in the community, people in ICUs, as we were when we reopened back in May. So, we're doing this, but we absolutely have to have additional measures. And this has been explained to the restaurant owners and to the hotel owners, particularly in light of a whole series of new findings that we have on the coronavirus.

HUDSON: Lots more science has come since May. But let me return to that point you made. Some of these metrics, the infection rate, hospitalization rate, while trending lower from a month ago, those numbers are twice what they were in May when we tried this the first time. Is that right?

MARTY: That's about right. I mean, some metrics, there's even more of a variance. But the reality is our economy needs to be picked up, as well. So, can we prevent having the roller coaster ride that other communities have experienced? And we can, but the only way to do that is every other public health measure that everyone's heard about in the last several months has to be layered on top of each other and done to the best of our abilities in order to open up indoor dining — and not end up with another huge surge of individuals in the hospital.

HUDSON: Remind us what they are and what they need to be. What do you mean by "layered on top of one another?"

MARTY: It's not just wear the mask. It's not just the six-foot distances. It's not just keep your hands clean. It's not just avoid crowded places. You have to do it all and you have to do it consistently.

When it comes to indoor dining, the biggest problem is the accumulation of tiny particles of virus. People, because they're dining, don't wear their masks; they have to take them off to eat. As this accumulates, we wind up being able to detect in the air, at distances of 15 feet or more from an infected person, live virus in concentrations high enough to infect other people. That means we have to increase the ventilation in these kinds of locations dramatically.

One of the measures is to have doors and windows wide open, and the air conditioner turned on, not on "auto," but on "on," so that it's constantly circulating and pushing that air out of the space, to not allow that accumulation of viral particles. And it has to be done again with a consideration of what the viral burden is in our community. Our viral burden now is a lot worse than it was in May. If we take all these measures at the same time, we can reduce the risk.

The transcript of this interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

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Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.