To Remain Or Reopen? South Florida Considers Next Steps During Coronavirus Pandemic

Apr 24, 2020

It’s been more than a month since the shutdowns in South Florida.

Plans to begin reopening are underway. This week, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez released a draft plan to begin a return to a "new normal" – starting with the outdoors.

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Meanwhile, Monroe County announced Friday that it will remain closed for weeks to come. In a statement, the county said it would continue banning visitors to the Keys through the month of May and possibly longer.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson talked about next steps during the coronavirus pandemic. He was joined by Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious diseases specialist at Florida International University, who also serves on the task force to reopen Miami-Dade, and Aurelio Fernandez, CEO of Broward’s Memorial Healthcare System and member of the governor’s statewide Reopen Florida task force.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: What does the current science tell us about reopening efforts in South Florida and then more broadly in the state of Florida?

DR. AILEEN MARTY: What we're looking for is to have a sustained period of time where we have a reproductive number below one. Right now, we're just below one in South Florida, which is encouraging. And what we'd really like to see is, is two weeks below one before we start opening up. However, that being said, several different mayors whom I've had the privilege of chatting with are wondering about opening some things in an appropriate manner with controls. And that's why we're talking about perhaps opening some parks for several hours, using appropriate social distancing, people wearing masks.

If those rules are followed, is it advisable to begin lifting some of those restrictions that have been in place?

MARTY: That's exactly what the mayors are are looking to see. Is our population going to take the responsibility to follow these rules and allow the governments to lift these restrictions in a controlled and useful way? If our population does take responsibility, then we can open a lot of different things, even before waiting the two weeks for the reproductive number to go below one.

Is the health care industry in South Florida in a good enough place so that some of these restrictions can be lifted?

AURELIO FERNANDEZ: One of the things that I can comment on is that all the hospitals in South Florida have capacity to take on a surge if it does happen. The fact that we have seen or census drop significantly in every one of our hospitals gives us tremendous amount of comfort that there is enough capacity both in surgical services as well as critical care.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we have a conference call with all the CEOs from all the hospitals in South Florida, and we share information. There were field hospitals that were set up and in a convention center in Miami Beach and one in Broward by the executive airport. We have not had to resort to those types of services. So we feel that the pre-construction of these field hospitals, as well as the capacity that has been built in all of our hospitals in South Florida is more than adequate to meet any of the needs, especially with our models showing a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases.

How important are those field hospitals to remain open, though, if some of these restrictions begin to get lifted in the days ahead?

FERNANDEZ: I don't see them being closed because you never know if if the virus resurges again, it could create a strain in the health care system. But I can assure you that based on the data that we have, between the three counties, there is more than adequate capacity, not only bed capacity, but the ability to staff them.

Dr. Marty, do you agree with that assessment?

MARTY: I also have been seeing what's going on in the hospitals, and of course, taking into consideration the reality that right now we're not allowing certain kinds of elective surgeries and so forth. We absolutely have the capacities right now for a surge. I mean, people want their cataract surgery, for example. It may not be life-threatening, but it certainly affects their life. It's a qualified agreement.

I think that one thing that we need to take into consideration is some processes that other nations have done. Some places have designated certain hospitals as respiratory hospitals and the rest as not, so that the patients that have, whether it's COVID or influenza or pneumonia, wind up in one hospital. In other words, so that we can build up our use of the hospitals back to where they need to be as well.