Editor’s Note: Daniella Levine Cava is the founder of Catalyst Miami, a premier nonprofit in Miami-Dade that is dedicated to solving issues adversely affecting low-wealth communities throughout the county. She is an attorney and serves as a Miami-Dade County Commissioner representing district 8. She is a candidate for Miami-Dade County mayor. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Early this year, the world watched in horror while the global pandemic took hold of Italy. Leaders in the United States watched too, but failed to prepare for what was coming. Instead of prepping our health care systems to brace for impact, President Donald Trump’s administration looked away from the looming crisis and promoted a false narrative that Covid-19 was not going to affect our country.
New York was one of the first states to feel the dire consequences of the contagion. The region was tested like never before, as it became the global epicenter, with hospitals filled to capacity. The hard-fought lessons learned from New York, sadly, have not been implemented nationally, and now the US is seeing positive cases exceeding 60,000 each day.
Today, Florida, specifically Miami-Dade County, is the pandemic’s epicenter. We have had daily case increases of nearly – and, at times, over – 10,000 statewide. Locally, the county has seen about 2,500 per day. The surge is intensifying, and our hospitals are working overtime. Many ICUs have hit their capacity, and hospitals are having to move swiftly to convert open non-ICU beds to ICU ones.
What’s become abundantly clear is that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez do not have a plan in place to get ahead of the virus. We remain two steps behind and lives are on the line. I have been critical of both leaders for their piecemeal approach to the crisis, which continues to erode confidence in the administrations’ efforts.
In recent days, I announced a six-point plan for Miami-Dade County to confront this crisis head on (as Covid cases surge across the country, this could be helpful for other counties too).
1. Designate immediately a Chief Medical Officer who can serve as a trusted voice as the county responds to the escalating crisis.
2. Engage in a continued public awareness campaign on mandatory masking. This means all our public leaders must show the community that they are wearing masks. Doing so will reinforce why this is a critical step to slow the spread. The governor must also put in place a statewide mandatory mask order to avoid the spread across county lines.
3. For businesses that can use outdoor spaces to continue to operate, the county must allow for modified outdoor space use, to include shutting down streets like Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive entirely for commercial use. The county must also ensure appropriate layout to minimize crowd growth.
4. A robust contact tracing program must be up and running by the weekend, with a minimum of 250 tracers and scaled upwards to 2,500 by end of month. Currently, the county is reporting that it has only 175 tracers in place.
5. Rapidly expand the limited county program in place to contract with low occupancy hotels that can act as isolation centers in conjunction with highly visible public service announcements to inform the public on the program. This will also help our hotel industry, which is hurting badly from reduced visitors.
6. Convene virtual weekly Covid Public Task Force Meetings with stakeholders, health experts, county commissioners, city mayors and community leaders to better engage the community and keep the public informed. Community members can attend virtually to engage with leadership.
These are critical steps Miami-Dade County must take as our decisions impact other sectors. For example, how schools approach their reopening rests on the county’s efforts and ability to control the spread of the virus. I have great confidence in Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s plan calling for a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual classes, along with block scheduling to ease the confusion for parents.
I also commend his communication with parents, teachers and students, as he advises the school board on whether the district can safely reopen next month. This decision will be based on how the county acts now to implement immediate strategies and protocols to flatten the curve.
The growing number of cases of Covid in our community means we must also prepare for the growing economic challenges that we will yet face. The surge in cases has increased unemployment and too many families are depending on social services. But those programs that have been stepped up to give relief during the crisis must not sunset. Senior meal programs must continue, grant and loan programs for small businesses need to expand, and rent relief for hard-hit families must not expire, as the ripple effects will be far greater on our economy than what we can see right now.
Approximately 22.3% of the Miami-Dade County labor force has filed Covid-related unemployment claims – with nearly two million filed statewide. This is why the federal government must move quickly to extend the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits beyond July 31, and additional aid to states and local governments are a must.
I have called for a more unified approach with our city mayors who also must confront the crisis with their residents. This is no time for division and turf battles. We need a consistent and collaborative plan that earns public confidence as Covid-19 cases continue to surge in Miami-Dade. My repeated calls for the two-part strategy early in the pandemic have been clearly ignored. Now our businesses and workers have to endure increased economic devastation yet again.
We continue to find ourselves behind the virus instead of ahead of it. We have paid with pain and sacrifice. The lack of leadership from the governor and mayor means we have more confusion, and businesses are being ordered to scale back their operations. We can’t continue to fall into the trap of having to choose between our economy or our health. The time for a united plan from state and county leaders is now, because tomorrow will be too late.