Contact Tracing Program In Miami Beach Aims To Support City's Hospitality Industry and Workers
Throughout the pandemic, the North Beach Bandshell's outdoor stage hosted a wide range of musicians, but performers looked out to a pretty empty audience area because the events were streamed online.
On Dec. 18, though, singer Ceci Leon was among the performers at the North Beach Bandshell who sang for an audience of 150 masked people at a tribute concert for Clark “Doug” Burris, the late founder and director of Miami Beach Senior High School’s Rock Ensemble.
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The Rhythm Foundation, a nonprofit that manages the North Beach Bandshell for the city of Miami Beach, has been undertaking a number of measures to keep events as safe as possible, including signing up for a contact tracing program called Race to Trace. The Foundation's Deputy Director Benton Galgay keeps a list of everyone who comes to the venue, performs there or works backstage.
"We actually have a personal liaison from the Department of Health who is in constant contact with me," he said, referring to a contact tracer with the Florida Department of Health. If anyone tests positive, Galgay will share the list of contacts with the contact tracer.
Contact tracers help stop the spread of the coronavirus that develops into COVID-19 by tracking down anybody who comes into contact with someone who tests positive for the disease. Tracers spend a lot of time on the phone with people who might have been exposed, calling them to make sure those people quarantine away from the public.
In Florida, contact tracers haven't always been able to get these phone numbers quickly enough, in part because people don't often answer their calls. Other times the contact tracers don't follow up.
Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease expert and chair of the epidemiology department at Florida International University's Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, told WLRN that having a list of contacts at the ready can only help this COVID-19 containment effort.
"If you’re not able to reach a person for a week, say, after they have their onset of illness, well forget about it," Trepka said. "It’s pretty limited usefulness."
That's why Miami Beach wanted to offer both safety training and a dedicated team of tracers for all the companies that sign up for Race to Trace.
"We thought, well, if we can have a very focused team on our industry and make sure that our industries have the most support possible, perhaps we can really reduce the spread and just have really accelerated contact tracing," said Amy Knowles, chief resilience officer for Miami Beach.
Miami Beach launched its Race to Trace program in December 2020 and it will run through August 2021, using a $455,000 Rockefeller Foundation grant. The money helps fund the work of seven Department of Health contact tracers who now focus solely on Miami Beach businesses. One of their jobs is to establish a relationship with the companies they follow.
One of the companies, the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, joined in December. Patrick Fernandes, Carillon's executive managing director, pointed out changes they've made at the property like signage requiring the use of a mask, plexiglass barriers, hand-sanitizing stations and antibacterial wipes. He also keeps a list of contacts that come to Carillon each day.
"If anything were to happen to me, I could very quickly produce a list of people that I have been in contact with," Fernandes said. "It certainly has allowed us to be more confident in our ability to operate a business during a pandemic."
Fernandes is also in constant touch with the same contact tracer who helps Galgay. Sometimes the tracer checks in to say "Hi," but "sometimes we have to share information on exposures and cases," Fernandes said.
They've been in touch twice about positive COVID-19 cases.
Marina Pravdic, a manager in the policy team at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, said she especially enjoys the collaborative spirit of Race to Trace.
"I love working on it, personally," she said, motivated in large part to help the people hardest hit by this pandemic. "Women have had to bear the brunt of this crisis."
Many of the people who work in the hospitality industry are women and also Black and Latino individuals — "two of the communities that have been the most disproportionately impacted by this pandemic," Pravdic added.
Many of the people who work in hospitality have children, many also live in multi-generational homes and most don't live in Miami Beach.
So far, 51 of Miami Beach’s businesses have signed up. The Rockefeller Foundation will measure success in part on how many participate and how much people respond to the contact tracers, along with measuring how many employees say they feel safer now going to work.
"It's a commitment that those employees and everyone else has to do in order for it to be effective," said Rolando Aedo, the chief operating officer at the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, explaining that contact tracing will be as effective as participants make it.
Galgay said he's hopeful that Race to Trace will help the city recover after tough losses, like lower hotel occupancy rates. They were down roughly 40% the week ending Jan. 23, compared to the same week one year ago.
"When people come to the North Beach Bandshell, they don’t just come to the venue," Galgay said. "They pay to park, they pay to eat dinner, they may stay in a hotel nearby. So the amount of business we’re able to generate for the municipality by welcoming people back through our doors is really consequential for the area."