MIAMI – As coronovirus infections surge across Florida and hospital authorities nervously count their available intensive care beds, the state's most populous county is closing down again, imposing a curfew and closing beaches over the Fourth of July weekend to contain the spread.
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 also closes casinos, strip clubs, movie theaters, the zoo 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.
Florida reported 341 new hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients on Friday, the biggest daily jump since the pandemic began. The state health department also reported 9,488 new confirmed cases and 67 deaths, a day after setting a new daily record with more than 10,000 cases.
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.
Other counties, including the Florida Keys, also closed beaches during the long holiday weekend. Gimenez said Miami-Dade police will be checking businesses to enforce mask and capacity rules, and closing establishments in violation.
Young people are driving the surge, and risk infecting their parents and grandparents, who may be more at risk of severe illness, officials said.
Gimenez said beds remain available but some hospitals have staffing shortages. The county's latest statistics showed more than 1,400 COVID patients in Miami hospitals, including 306 in intensive care, occupying about 73% of the ICU beds that would be otherwise available.
Miami’s largest hospital said it will begin restricting elective procedures on Monday. Two large medical networks in the Tampa Bay area also said they'll limit non-emergency procedures at eight hospitals next week, since Pinellas County has just 10% of its ICU units available.
Florida'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. These are key indicators of the severity of the outbreak, because not everyone who becomes infected develops serious symptoms.
Statewide, about 20% of ICU beds are currently available, though some hospitals have additional capacity that can be turned into ICU units if need be. Health officials said they would begin releasing daily updates with more hospitalization data soon, but a spokesperson said Friday he did not know when.
A group of 10 Democratic lawmakers urged Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday to mandate mask-wearing statewide. “This is not a partisan issue; this is an issue of life and death," they wrote. They include state Rep. Shevrin Jones of South Florida, who announced Tuesday that he had been infected.
But DeSantis has resisted such calls, even as his fellow Republican, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, moved to do so on Thursday.
Layne Behncke, 27, a youth minister of Bartow, Florida, tested positive but downplayed how sick she felt in phone conversations with her parents. She did not want them to visit her and get infected. Then she got so nauseous, with a fever and body aches, that she couldn't walk her dog or make a soup, so she called to have her father take her to a clinic to receive intravenous fluids.
“I am young and healthy and this hit me like a truck,” Behncke said. “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.”