Oliver Gilbert

The State Department of Health says the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in Miami-Dade has been increasing. On June 16, those testing positive was 12.8 %. It rose to 13.2% on June 20 and then fell to 8.9 per cent on Sunday, June 21.

The City of Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert met with Mayor Francis Suarez and 12 other mayors in the Miami-Dade League of Cities on Monday, June 22 for a news conference that focused on the recent, sharp increase in COVID-19 cases that have continued to escalate. Miami-Dade County reached 900 cases over the weekend.

In the last two weeks, the city of Miami has seen an increase in new cases of about 35 new cases per day which mimicked the same sloping increase witnessed before they implemented stay at home orders. At that time, the high watermark for Florida was 1,300 new cases; however, the city has seen 4,700 new cases a day which is more than three times that amount.

“Everyone will have to be wearing masks in public. Right now the mask requirement is only for when you are inside, when you are at parks but not exercising, and now it will be a public requirement,” said Suarez. “Without a doubt, enforcement will be a challenge but just like when we issued a stay at home order, one of the things that we wanted to make of was that our residents understood what the best way they could protect themselves was.”

Gilbert has held firm to his established approach toward the city of Miami Gardens ‘Moving to a New Normal’ when it reopened during phase 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 27, Gilbert told The Miami Times public safety was of the utmost importance, and despite Miami-Dade County’s pace, as an elected-official of a municipality, he was being “slow, methodical and intentional.”

“Ultimately what will stop the spread of COVID-19 so quickly in this community is our discipline,” said Gilbert. “If we’re less disciplined, this thing will ravage our community. I’m mayor of my hometown, the largest predominately Black city in Florida, and the co-morbidities that exist for Miami Gardens residents are high blood pressure, diabetes, asthmas and sickle cell anemia. If you have these pre-conditions, COVID-19 is especially dangerous to you, so that’s why you see us being more cautious.”

Gilbert’s plan unfolded seamlessly beginning with a series of press conferences that kicked-off May 20 when independent retailer Mr. Pocketbook represented the business sector re-openings at the Garden Promenade. One week later on May 27, ToppCuttaz Barber, Salon and Spa on NW 27th Ave. withstood restrictions to re-open long awaited personal services with operational conditions and protective measure safeguards for employees and customers. Restaurants followed, and The Hard Rock Stadium welcomed patrons when it hosted its first, open-air, drive-in event last Thursday, June 18.

But wedged between nearly four weeks of reinforced safety concerns and community-wide discipline, CDC protocols to wear masks and social distancing waned. The best of slow intentions found the same Miami Gardens community committed to “flatten the curve” grouped with the broader public in a return-to-normal frenzy.

Gilbert offered no haste in mitigating response. Effective immediately, mandatory masks must also be worn in Miami Gardens while in public.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez praised the new rules saying he “will be meeting with the County’s medical experts tomorrow to discuss whether the use of masks in less congested unincorporated areas of the County is necessary. I will reiterate that enforcement remains key. None of this means anything unless the New Normal rules are enforced by the County’s 34 municipalities.”

The State Department of Health says the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in Miami-Dade has been increasing. On June 16, those testing positive was 12.8 %. It rose to 13.2% on June 20 and then fell to 8.9 per cent on Sunday, June 21.

“We have seen a recent uptick in cases particularly among young people aged 18 to 35 and we are also seeing an increase in hospitalizations, though we are not yet seeing an increase in the need for ICU beds and ventilators in deaths” said Suarez.

Throughout the pandemic, Gilbert has been a foremost advocate of encouraging testing, especially among Blacks who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

“I started talking about the disproportionate rates of Blacks being affected two-weeks before the pandemic,” said Gilbert who cited his health initiative, ‘Healthy Miami Gardens’ which was launched with awareness that Blacks had the highest levels of high blood pressure.

“We’ve been working on that for years along with obesity, exercising and living right. We knew early on from the cancelling of Jazz in the Gardens, to closing down parks and shutting down businesses, our residents have been wearing masks for a while now and they understand the danger that’s inherent with this disease in this community.”

A June 22 report provided by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services affirmed that Blacks were nearly four times more likely than whites to be hospitalized with COVID-19 among people with Medicare and that having advanced kidney disease was an even more severe risk indicator for hospitalization than race, ethnicity, or being poor.

“It reconfirms long-standing issues around disparities and vulnerable populations,” said Medicare administrator Seema Verma, adding that “race and ethnicity are far from the only story.

Affirming Gilbert’s stance, the report stated medical problems such as high blood pressure and heart conditions also tend to be more prevalent among Blacks and Latinos, increasing their risks for severe coronavirus infections. The Medicare data call for a greater focus on social conditions that contribute to poor health, Verma said, as well as continuing to expand coordinated care for patients trying to cope with several chronic conditions at a time.

“I have just come from the funeral of someone who passed away from COVID19,” Gilbert shared at the news conference. “There are consequences of not following rules and that is that more people die. We don’t enjoy wearing masks in public but we are doing it so we can move forward and live as a community.”

So far, 20 out of 34 cities in the county are issuing a rule that masks must be worn in public spaces.

Managing Editor

Penny Dickerson is a journalist joining The Miami Times following an Africa sojourn and 10-year freelance career in newspaper and magazine. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and B.A. in Journalism from Temple University.

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