Virtual town hall

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez is joined by a panel of experts and advisers during a virtual town hall meeting Monday, April 20, on the county's reopening process.

As the nation grows restless over when normalcy will return, local measures are being considered in Miami-Dade County to begin reopening open spaces and activities.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez was joined virtually by a panel of experts and advisers for a live Facebook and Twitter town hall meeting that inviting local residents to offer their input on the county’s reopening plan as in accord with its response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez seeks community input during virtual town hall meeting Monday, April 20, on the reopening process.

Posted by The Miami Times on Monday, 20 April 2020

The mayor announced parks, waterways and golf courses are primarily considered for reopening under CDC guidelines that promote social distancing. This reinforces existing county and state measures per the CDC and health department that call for no congregations of groups 10 or more, individuals remain 6 feet apart and elderly and those with compromised immune systems wear a face mask.

Despite summer lingering just around the corner, beaches are to remain closed countywide until further notice. The mayor cited lack of adequate enforcement to patrol Miami-Dade’s vast mileage of beach entry points as the county’s decision to keep beaches closed.

“Opening our beaches is not in the works at this time,” Gimenez said. “This decision was made in conjunction with the county’s coastal communities. At each step we are consulting with all the stakeholders because we want to make sure each [beach] opening is enforceable. Before we open any beaches we want to see how people follow the rules for our other openings of parks, golf courses and marinas.”

Ramiro Inguanzo, president of the Miami-Dade County Management Association, suggested beach access be granted at the same time for the entire South Florida tri-county area: Miami-Dade; Broward and Palm Beach counties. This recommendation seeks to ensure an even dispersion of beachgoers per beach so that social distance guidelines can be optimally maintained and enforced.

Beach activities would be limited to walking and jogging-- no sunbathing or beach equipment will be allowed. At this time, Inguanzo also advised against swimming.

While parks, waterways and golf courses represent the first open spaces in the works to reopen countywide, regional officials of these sectors articulated contingent recommendations, guidelines and protocols for the community to adhere to.

Parks and recreation

Open community and neighborhood parks will be open from sunrise to sunset-- encouraging park-use in short-use intervals for one or two hours, Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation director Maria Nardi recommended.

Individuals and families will be permitted to engage in passive and limited activities such as: walking, jogging, hiking and cycling. Walking and nature paths will be one-way and face masks must be worn. Park restrooms will be open and sanitized on a more frequent basis to supply soap, hand towels, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Open basketball courts are reserved for individual play only. Team or pick-up games are prohibited, and only three players per half court are allowed at a time. Players must bring their own basketball to minimize the risk of shared exposure. No recreational programming, pick-up games, organized sports or activities will be allowed. Smaller groups must abide by

social distancing and follow CDC and health department guidelines.

Amenities that will remain closed include: playgrounds; exercise equipment; dog parks; recreation buildings; picnic shelters; play fields; gyms, campgrounds; skate parks and swimming pools. All sports field lighting will remain off.

Seniors can use parks any time and have priority and access at dedicated parks; two hours early in the morning, three times a week.

Boating and waterways

Rodney Barreto, Chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife, issued the following recommendations for boats and waterways in accordance with CDC guidelines: Boats must remain 50 feet apart at all times; no tying up or anchoring; no gatherings of more than 10 people and rafting up, beaching and landings of boats are all prohibited.

In regards to fleet size: Boats 25 inches or less, four adults maximum or immediate family (children 18 and under); boats 26 – 36 inches, six adults maximum or immediate family and boats 37 inches and more, eight adults maximum or immediate family. Six-Pack vessels must adhere to no more than four guests per vessel and follow CDC safety measures.

Kayak and canoe launch areas will reopen, and jet ski rental operations will be single riders only. Rental staff must abide by safe CDC guidelines regarding sanitizing after each use.

Boat ramps will be open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., under recommendation that opening commence on a weekday. One boat is allowed per launch ramp at a time, and vessels must be prepared in advance to launch. All passengers must board the vessel once it is launched.

Fishing will be allowed on fishing piers as long as social distancing at a minimum of 10 feet between fishermen is followed.

Golf courses and country clubs

Miami-area leading golf industry expert Charles De Lucca prepared recommendations provided by the National Golf Course Owners Association, Professional Golfers' Association of America and United States Golf Association, as to how best to provide a safe environment on South Florida’s golf courses. They developed a five-step approach of added safety protocols that encompass golf course grounds; course preparation; playing; food and beverage and staff training.

Some ground guidelines would require one-player to a golf cart, players bring their own equipment and pro-shop entrances to be closed when possible-- with the exception of handling payments when necessary through protective glass and social distancing measures.

To prevent flagpole touching, cup modifications will include a noodle used to fill the cup hole and raised an inch above ground to prevent the ball from going in the hole. All staff will be required to wear a mask and gloves at all times and trained on proper hygiene, sanitation and food handling for COVID-19 prevention and control.

Food and beverage facilities are to remain closed except for takeout and delivery only. Players will be encouraged to pay with a credit card and a cart attendant will wipe down the credit card machine after each use.

Countywide enforcement

Miami-Dade police and other area law enforcement are expected to be heavily on guard in open spaces corresponding to phase one. Officers will patrol these areas to enforce social distancing and other safety guidelines proposed by the CDC and health department.

“This is going to be zero tolerance from the get-go,” Gimenez asserted. “There’s going to be zero tolerance on everything-- because we can’t let a handful of folks that just don’t want to follow the rules ruin it for the rest of us and we’re not going to allow it.”

The mayor warned that violators will be punished to the fullest extent with a hefty $500 fine or jail time depending on the degree of violation an individual commits.

“The message is that we are serious about this,” said Gimenez. “Most would not end up there [jail] but if somebody takes it to an extreme they may very well end up behind jail.”

The mayor said he’s not ruling out the possibility of jail times as a consequence to social distance violators despite the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office initiative to decarcerate jail populations and limit arrests for low-level offenses.

“If I ruled out that possibility, you’re ruling out a consequence to bad behavior, and I’m not going to rule out any consequences for bad behavior,” he added.

While it has not yet been determined when phase one will be implemented, the mayor said he hopes Miami-Dade can begin to move toward normalcy as quickly and safely as possible under the given recommendations.

Eman Elshahawy joined The Miami Times Nov. 2019 as a reporter and multimedia content producer. She graduated from the University of Florida in Summer 2019, where she earned a B.S. in journalism from UF's College of Journalism and Communications.

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