MIAMI (AP) — South Florida's coronavirus caseload continues to decline, but Miami-Dade County's mayor says people should not let their guard down. He's deploying more police officers and code enforcement personnel to make sure people wear face masks and respect social distancing guidelines over the long Labor Day weekend.
“We don’t want a repeat of Memorial Day,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said during an online news conference on Friday. “People got complacent and there were parties, big gatherings, and people weren’t following the rules of wearing masks and social distancing so infections spiked and hospitals were packed.”
The travel planning app TripIt reported that Labor Day bookings for flights and hotels had increased for many Florida destinations, including Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.
Florida also reported 103 new deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, raising its total to 11,903. That brings Florida's average daily reported death rate over the past week to about 115 — a slight uptick from earlier this week but down from highs of 185 in the first week of August. The state recorded 3,198 new positive cases on Friday.
Patients being treated in Florida hospitals for COVID-19 numbered 3,348 late Friday morning, continuing a downward trend since highs above 9,500 in late July.
The positivity rate for Miami-Dade County is now at about 7%. Gimenez thanked people who are following the rules for reducing infection rates, but warned that "everyone has to keep doing their part.”
The mayor of Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, also held a press conference Friday to talk about Labor Day celebrations and encouraged people to call code enforcement officers if they see businesses or people not following the rules.
“Please stay safe, wear facial covering, socially distance and we’ll get to the place where we can fully open our economy,” said Mayor Dale Holness.
Tourism officials in St. Petersburg and Clearwater also rolled out a nearly $2 million communications campaign called “Rise to Shine" that urges visitors to follow the rules, with such slogans as “Spread out, Mask Up,” and “Spread Love, not Germs.”
Also on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order allowing Palm Beach County to move into the next phase of reopening businesses and loosening restrictions that have been in place since the coronavirus pandemic began. It means bowling alleys and movie theaters can reopen at 50% capacity and gyms and retail stores reopen at full capacity.
That leaves only Broward and Miami-Dade counties — the state's most populous areas — in Phase 1. None of Florida's beaches are closed.
The governor also announced that Florida's secretary of health care administration, Mary Mayhew, who has helped guide state policy throughout the pandemic, is leaving to become CEO for the Florida Hospital Association. Her last day is Oct. 2.
Her administration oversees the daily tabulation of positive cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
“From spearheading my administration’s efforts to allow for the importation of safe and affordable prescription drugs from Canada, to navigating our top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the most vulnerable, Secretary Mayhew has served Floridians well and we wish her all the best on her new endeavor,” DeSantis said in a statement.
The governor has pushed for students to return to brick and mortar schools and resume normal activities. He planned to attend a Friday night high school football game between the Santa Fe Raiders and the Suwannee Bulldogs in Live Oak.
Dr. Ron Saff, with Physicians for Social Responsibility Florida, said the risk for the virus spreading is high among both football players and spectators, and he doubted either locker rooms or stands will be sufficiently sanitized.
“Scientists know that the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to wear a mask over one’s mouth and to maintain a 6-foot distance,” Saff said. “So how can one stay 6 feet away if there is a big tackle pile-up trying to prevent a runner from heading to the goal line?”
Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale. AP reporters Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, contributed to this report.