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The South Florida Roundup

Doctors Ask Public To Get COVID Vaccine, The Red Hot Real Estate Market And Haiti Earthquake Recovery

The COVID-19 virus keeps raging through South Florida. Tens of thousands of people are testing positive each week. Hundreds are hospitalized and dozens are dying each week, even though South Florida has some of the highest vaccination rates in the state.

On Wednesday, more than 1,700 COVID patients were in Miami-Dade hospitals alone. Thousands more are in hospitals in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava spoke with WLRN’s Sundial program Thursday.

“Ninety percent of those in the hospital are with no vaccination, we know that they are the ones that are getting extremely ill,” Levine Cava said. “The vaccine is the only thing that stops this virus. And, the masking of course is vital because we can spread this variant even if we’re vaccinated.”

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This week, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots in the U.S. will start rolling out late next month.

South Florida physicians have been publicly appealing to unvaccinated people to get the shot. Nearly 100 doctors gathered in Palm Beach Gardens Monday to highlight the advantages of getting vaccinated.

Jackson Health emergency medicine resident Dr. Juhi Varshney wrote a column in the Miami Herald about her experience working in the emergency room over the last month and a half.

“We're seeing patients who are coming in able to walk around [with] normal oxygen levels that still feel pretty terrible, so bad that they came into the emergency department,” said Varshney. “We're seeing patients who are coming in with incredibly abnormal vital signs and very low oxygen levels struggling to breathe.”

Varshney said she needs to monitor her COVID-19 patients very closely, because their condition can rapidly worsen.

“We have people coming in who were able to talk to us, were able to carry a normal conversation, who honestly seemed pretty OK — they can decompensate pretty quickly over a shift and need to get intubated at the end of the shift, or even in a few hours just because the virus is that bad.”

Varshney said she has had a lot of straight-forward conversations with family members of COVID patients about the reality of the situation.

“I also encourage families to go get tested, to isolate if they've been spending time with this patient, and then I encourage the vaccine,” said Varshney. "Of course, it's one of the best tools that we have. An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. So I remember actually feeling quite helpless earlier this month, just wishing that I could talk to people about getting vaccinated before things got too bad, because by the time they came into the emergency department, it's oftentimes too late."

Red-Hot South Florida Real Estate

It’s not just the temperature that’s rising in South Florida. Real estate continues to be red hot.

The influx of people and industries moving to the region coincides with low supply of homes and work spaces, creating demand that's driving up prices on houses, rentals and even office spaces. Low borrowing costs to buy a home have helped, too.

County property appraisers have begun mailing out tax notices to property owners this week. Miami-Dade County Appraiser Pedro Garcia said the county did not experience a devaluation of property that was feared as a result of the pandemic.

“We have a tremendous amount of people buying properties and buying at the regular asking price. There was a tremendous amount of sales in 2020 and 2021, it's amazing the value that we've seen on properties and especially on water-front properties,” Garcia said.

The total estimated taxable value of all property in Miami-Dade county is up by over 4%.

Residential rents are also on the rise in South Florida. Lidia Dinkova, a real estate reporter for The Real Deal, recently reported that residential rent in some areas of South Florida are seeing double digit increases, up to 24% in some places.

Dinkova said there is a “confluence of factors” driving up residential rents.

“One of them being that the housing market is just unattainable for, I would say, even the majority of people, the median house value went up to $500,000 this summer, so that's one thing at play,” said Dinkova. “But the bigger issue really is just the demand —there's just so many people who want and need to rent. Brokers, landlords, developers are all saying that demand is really unprecedented.”

Office rental prices are also increasing in Miami-Dade County.

“The reason rents are rising is because we're continuing to see this influx of companies across the country moving and opening or expanding their headquarters or moving their entire team to South Florida,” said Rebecca San Juan, who covers real estate for The Miami Herald. “And believe it or not, although rents have risen for the office market by about 5.8 percent and we have the sixth-highest average asking rent in the country compared to 50 other metro areas.”

San Juan said Miami office space is about $43 per square foot to rent. San Francisco office space goes for about $69 per square foot and in Manhattan the price is about $84, so Miami prices are attractive for companies looking to relocate.

Supporting Haiti From Afar

It's been nearly two weeks since a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 2,200 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more.

The United States government immediately deployed search and rescue teams, medical supplies and other relief items to the country.

The United States Agency For International Development administrator Samantha Power was in Haiti this week. The Miami Herald recorded her remarks during a press conference.

“According to the mayor of Maniche, of the 9,800 homes in that area, more than 5,000 were destroyed,” said Power. “We saw a school that had been completely flattened, we saw a health clinic that had been partially damaged and is now overwhelmed by need.”

The agency announced Thursday it will give Haiti $32 million in humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, in South Florida, members of the Haitian diaspora are working to get much needed relief supplies to the people who need it.

Cosy Clergé-Joseph, president of Gaskov Clergé Foundation, said the organization collected medical supplies to send to Haiti last week and they're on the way to the country.

“We are still accumulating more and we're planning to send them off this week,” said Clergé-Joseph. “I will tell you that those medical supplies, they are there. They were very welcome. As you can imagine, people are still being treated for wound care and other and different types of trauma.”

Clergé-Joseph said the diaspora will play a “critical role” in the long term recovery of Haiti.

“What I'm seeing this time around is a whole lot more organization among the different diaspora organizations,”said Clergé-Joseph. “They are trying not to duplicate the mistakes that happened in 2010. They're trying not to duplicate efforts across the organizations and they have some financial means to deliver direct impact.”

Clergé-Joseph encourages non-governmental organizations, and governmental organizations, to include the Haitian diaspora in conversations about recovery, to really understand where they fit in and how they can be leveraged.

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Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.