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Curfews, closures as COVID-19 burdens Florida hospitals

Miami-Dade County's 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew begins Friday night and will be in place indefinitely. Casinos, strip clubs, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues will close a month after they were allowed to reopen.

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Florida’s most populous county instituted an overnight curfew, and beaches and businesses began closing down again as the state’s number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations soared, threatening a further spread during the festive Fourth of July weekend.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew begins Friday night and will be in place indefinitely. A new county order closes casinos, strip clubs, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues a month after they were allowed to reopen.

“This curfew is meant to stop people from venturing out and hanging out with friends in groups, which has shown to be spreading the virus rapidly,” Gimenez said in a statement.

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On Friday, Florida reported 9,488 new confirmed cases and 67 deaths, a day after setting a new daily record with more than 10,000 cases.

The state’s health department’s tally of hospitalizations was higher Friday at 341 new admissions in Florida, the biggest daily jump since the pandemic began. Gimenez said there were beds available but some hospitals have staffing shortages.

“I met with our medical experts this afternoon to discuss what other steps we can take to stop the spread of virus infection and ensure that our hospitals have sufficient capacity,” he said Thursday.

The mayor’s order also tightens mask rules at restaurants, requiring customers to wear facial coverings at all times unless eating or drinking. Under the previous order, customers were allowed to remove masks when they sat down.

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Last week officials in Miami-Dade and other counties, including the Florida Keys, announced that beaches would be closed during the long July 4th weekend.

Gimenez said Miami-Dade police will be checking businesses throughout the holiday weekend to enforce mask and capacity rules, and closing establishments in violation.

“I do not want to go back to closing all but essential businesses, but the only way to avoid that is for everyone to take COVID-19 seriously,” Gimenez said in a statement. “That means every generation — every one of us, no exceptions.”

Curfews, closures as COVID-19 burdens Florida hospitals
People wearing protective face masks stand at a closed entrance to the beach during the new coronavirus pandemic, Friday, July 3, 2020, in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach, Fla. Beaches throughout South Florida are closed for the busy Fourth of July weekend to avoid further spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

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The latest county statistics showed more than 1,400 COVID patients in Miami hospitals. Of those, 306 are in intensive-care beds, occupying about 73% of the ICU beds that would be otherwise available.

The state’s health department releases a daily cumulative tally of new hospitalizations of people who test positive for the virus but doesn’t provide statewide numbers of COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals, ICU beds, or on ventilators. Ventilator use and ICU occupancy are key indicators of the severity of the outbreak because not everyone who becomes infected with the coronavirus develops serious symptoms.

The state releases daily reports on available ICU beds, statewide, by county and by individual hospitals — but those numbers don’t include how many are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Statewide, about 20% of ICU beds are currently available, though some hospitals have the additional capacity that can be turned into ICU units if need be.

“We are concerned that the cases will overwhelm the medical system,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We have to be careful watching local hospitals.”

Health officials said they would begin releasing daily updates with more hospitalization data soon, but a spokesperson said Friday he did not know when.

As hospitals fill up, a group of legislators urged Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday to order a statewide mandate for Floridians to wear masks. Most of the largest cities and counties in Florida already have local mandates.

The group of 10 Democratic lawmakers includes state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a South Florida lawmaker who announced Tuesday that he had been infected by the coronavirus.

The governor has thus far resisted those calls, even as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, another Republican, moved to do so on Thursday.

“This is not a partisan issue; this is an issue of life and death,” the legislators said in a letter to DeSantis.

State and local officials say young people are driving the surge in cases, and they worry they could then infect their parents and grandparents, who may have underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness.

Layne Behncke, 27, a youth minister of Bartlow, Florida, tested positive for COVID-19. She said she downplayed how sick she felt in phone conversations with her parents because she did not want them to come to visit her and risk being exposed.

One day last week, she was so nauseous, with a fever and body aches she could not even walk her dog or make a soup, so she called her father to take her to a clinic to receive intravenous fluids.

“I am young and healthy and this hit me like a truck,” said Bartlow, who works as a youth minister for a Roman Catholic church. “My mom later asked me ‘why didn’t you tell us you were so scared for your life?’ I didn’t say that to them because they were going to come running. I didn’t want to give it to them.”

Curfews, closures as COVID-19 burdens Florida hospitals

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