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Local elections, Miami-Dade Schools relax masks, the latest from Surfside, and robotic cats helping people with dementia

Image of the building next to the demolished Champlain Towers South building
Charles Trainor Jr.
Miami Herald
Champlain Towers South collapses near the Eighty Seven Park building under a control demolition Sunday night, July 4, 2021.

A brief local elections update and Miami-Dade’s recent mask mandate decision. Also, new findings could tell us how the Champlain Towers South condo collapsed. Plus, how robotic cats are helping people with memory loss diseases.

On this Tuesday, Nov. 2, edition of Sundial:

Local elections

It’s Election Day for some of South Florida’s largest cities. Voter turnout is typically low on elections during off-years, but it was too soon Tuesday afternoon to tell what that trend would look like when polls closed.

WLRN’s Verónica Zaragovia was at the polls in Miami Beach. She spoke with a few residents who came out to vote for the city’s mayoral race and other questions, like the referendum to roll back the alcohol sale time from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. for bars and clubs.

Zaragovia said most of the voters she spoke to did not support the referendum.

“[Voters] are telling me that the increase in crime in Miami Beach is not caused by people who are going out to a bar at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m.,” said Zaragovia. “A lot of people are supporting more police presence.”

You can stay up-to-date with all of today’s local elections by following our live blog.

Miami-Dade Schools mask mandate

Miami-Dade County Public School officials announced yesterday that the district will relax mask protocols. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that high school and middle school students can now opt-out of the mask mandate.

Miami Herald reporter David Goodhue said that elementary school students still have to wear their masks, but this could change in the coming weeks if COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to decrease across South Florida.

Lynne Sladky
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho walks with students outside of iPrep Academy on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Miami.

Goodhue reported that Carvalho mentioned the Florida Department of Education hasn’t penalized the school district for going against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ orders to ban mask mandates.

Broward County school board members voted to allow high school students to opt out of wearing masks last week.

Local elections and Miami-Dade schools mask mandate

New details on the Champlain Towers South collapse

Experts and investigators still don’t know the exact reasons why the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside collapsed in June. However, new information is slowly coming out to help explain what happened.

Miami Herald investigative reporter Sarah Blaskey said the vibration levels from the construction of a neighboring building back in 2016 could have caused some structural damages to the Champlain Towers South building. Condominium residents complained that their walls were shaking and their items kept rattling.

“Humans perceive vibrations very quickly,” said Blaskey. “Even if a human can feel them, it doesn’t mean that they are intense enough to harm a concrete structure.”

However, the Miami Herald exclusively obtained a report from the development company that states at the time they knew they had exceeded the vibration level limits.

Blaskey said the next step is to determine how much damage these vibrations could have caused. She added that experts say it’s likely the vibrations exacerbated pre-existing structural problems.

Champlain Towers South collapse developing details

Robotic cats as companions for people with dementia

Some people use dogs, cats, and other animals as therapy pets to ease debilitating mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

People with dementia or Alzheimer’s often don’t have that opportunity. Memory loss diseases impact a person’s psychological and cognitive behaviors, which would make it difficult to take care of a pet.

Dr. Lisa Kirk Wiese is an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. One of her students wanted to research the impacts of using interactive robotic cats as a means of therapeutic companionship for people who aren’t able to care for real animals.

Wiese and her team conducted a study at an adult memory and wellness center. Over a span of 12 visits, the researchers saw an improvement in patients’ mood, behavior, and cognition.

Florida Atlantic University
Dr. Lisa Kirk Wiese, an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, conducted a study with her students to see how robotic pet cats help people with dementia.

“To see them come alive from sitting there just not doing a lot in a chair, and to come alive embracing the cat, petting the cat, smiling, laughing … it was amazing,” Wiese said.

If you're interested in purchasing an affordable robotic cat for a family member or loved one who has dementia, then you can visit this link.

Robotic cats as companions for people with dementia

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Amber Amortegui is a senior studying journalism at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Born and raised in Davie, Fla., Amber is a native South Floridian who embraces one of America’s most diverse regions.