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The South Florida Roundup

As COVID Cases Increase, New Miami-Dade Mayor Appoints Chief Medical Officer

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MATIAS J. OCNER MOCNER@MIAMIHERALD.COM
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The Miami Herald
Newly elected Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava speaks during her swearing-in ceremony inside the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami on Tuesday, November 17, 2020.

There are no plans by Miami-Dade’s new mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, for COVID-19 restrictions to return. But she has appointed a new chief medical officer to aid the county's response. The incoming Miami Dade College president is ready to reassess in-person classes if infections spike.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava followed through with her campaign promise to appoint a chief medical officer on her first day in office Tuesday. Yet, the new mayor is not making any changes to the rules that have been in place for weeks.

"What I’m focusing on is enforcing the laws we have on the books, including the curfew," the mayor said Friday.

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Meantime, she supports a group of local city mayors asking Gov. Ron DeSantis for a statewide mask mandate and more flexibility for municipalities. Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan is among those behind the call.

And Miami Dade College's incoming president, Madeline Pumariega, said the school needs to be in position to make "adjustments" if local infection rates return to double digits.

All three joined this week's South Florida Roundup for separate interviews.

NEW MAYOR, SAME RULES

The charts for COVID-19 are pointing higher across South Florida this week. New cases, emergency room visits by patients with COVID-like symptoms, and hospitalizations are higher than a week ago. It’s not the summer surge the region experienced but the COVID infection continues spreading to more people, as Thanksgiving approaches.

Mask rules remain in place, though they can’t be enforced with fines. Restaurants, bars, stores and schools remain open as testing demand increases.

In her first day as mayor, Daniella Levine Cava named Dr. Peter Paige as her chief medical officer and gave some insight into what his position will entail as the county responds to the latest COVID-19 surge.

"He will be my constant advisor. He will help us to interpret the data and the trends from locally and around the country. He will speak with the other medical officers at the other hospitals," Levine Cava said.

Paige is the chief physician executive and chief clinical officer at Jackson Health System.

He will work with other medical experts and businesses to ensure, "we are all speaking with one voice and communicating that effectively to the public," the mayor said.

What I’m focusing on is enforcing the laws we have on the books, including the curfew.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava

Levine Cava has not made any changes to rules that were put in place by her predecessor Carlos Gimenez.

"We are doing what we can within the framework of the state law," she said.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis moved the state to phase three in late September, he required that all business be allowed to open, and prohibited local governments from collecting fines from people violating local mask mandates.

"We are still in a state of emergency. I still have the ability to create executive orders and I will not hesitate to do so if needed," Levine Cava said.

The midnight to 6 a.m. curfew remains in place in Miami-Dade County. The mayor hopes to encourage more local municipalities to enforce it.

LOCAL MAYORS ASK FOR MASK MANDATE

This week, five local mayors, including one from Broward County, called on Gov. DeSantis to institute a statewide mask mandate, and to allow local governments more flexibility to responding to a rise of COVID infections and hospitalizations.

We need to go back to where we were before Sept. 25 .
Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan

"We need to go back to where we were before Sept. 25 when local governments could enact mitigation strategies that we could enforce. And they were very effective," said Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan.

Still, Ryan said even if he could limit capacity at restaurants and bars in Sunrise, for instance, he wouldn't.

"It is unfair to ask certain business to sacrifice if we're not going to do collective sacrifice," Ryan said. "No single municipal mayor can do anything at this stage because it's categorically unfair."

In addition to a statewide mask requirement, and more local control, the group of mayors asked for the state to restore its support of testing facilities to earlier levels, and to increase contact tracing.

NEW MIAMI DADE COLLEGE LEADER

Madeline Pumariega will be in the middle of handling a pandemic for a large institution and responding to a deep jobs recession when she returns to South Florida.

Pumariega is the incoming president of Miami Dade College — the largest college in the country by enrollment. But the number of students has been falling and college spending has come under pressure because of the virus and the economic consequences from the germ.

She will take over the school in January and said the college may have to reassess holding in-person classes.

"I think that we've got to continue to follow the science and listen to the experts and working together with faculty and making sure that the priority is that we keep our faculty, our students safe and that we also help the community stay safe," Pumariega said.

The priority is that we keep our faculty, our students safe and that we also help the community stay safe.
Incoming Miami Dade College Pres. Madeline Pumariega

Pumariega is a Hialeah native and was a student, basketball player, coach and professor at Miami Dade College. She led the downtown Miami Wolfson campus about a decade ago.

Since May 2019 she has been the leader at Tallahassee Community College and before that she was the Florida State College System chancellor, a position that familiarized her with the state Legislature, something that the college's selection committee pointed to when hiring her.

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.