MIAMI (WSVN) - Local and national leaders are pleading with the public to help stop the spread of COVID-19 as the number of patients in South Florida hospitals continues to rise.

Healthcare workers across the nation are saying they’re exhausted and are stressing the importance of everyone doing their part to help stop the spread of the virus.

“Unless people are wearing their masks, we know that the numbers will hit double digits,” Dr. Peter Paige, Miami-Dade County’s Chief Medical Officer, said.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who herself tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week, did not mince words.

“We are up against the wall here,” Levine Cava said. “We must, must have full cooperation with all of the precautions that we know work. We are not universally masking in our community today,” she said. “We are not universally adhering to the curfew. We are not taking full advantage of our testing.”

The mayor hosted a virtual media conference on Friday afternoon to discuss the alarming rise in cases.

“We’re greatly concerned about overwhelming our healthcare system’s capacity to care for COVID patients,” she said. “Our hospital network in South Florida is one of the finest in the country and has done extremely well in dealing with this pandemic, but if we push our system to the limit when COVID cases spread too quickly, we will be at a breaking point.”

The conference comes after Florida surpassed one million total COVID-19 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health.

“Sixty days ago countywide, our hospitalization for COVID-positive patients were 341,” Paige said. “Yesterday, the number was 815. That’s a 139% increase. Countywide, our [intensive care unit] census for COVID-positive patients was 104. Yesterday, it was 164, a 58% increase, and the most challenging days may be ahead of us.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also warned the public that the most difficult months of the pandemic are ahead of us.

“It is essential we all take steps in our own lives to protect our families and to protect our healthcare workers and first responders — those who are on the front lines every single day, fighting this virus for us,” said Levine Cava.

The mayor also gave an update about her own experience dealing with the virus.

“Cold symptoms, some pressure in my chest, you know, this is a beast this thing, but I’m not incapacitated, fortunately,” she said.

South Florida leaders are closely watching the number of local COVID-19 cases.

“I’m begging people to wear their masks and to take precautions during the holidays,” said Broward County Mayor Steve Geller. “We just had our Thanksgiving holidays, and our numbers are going up. We are afraid, because people are scheduling Christmas parties, they’re getting together for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. On New Year’s, we know people are going to have a few drinks, and that’s going to lose their inhibitions and their masks.”

Geller also hosted a conference call with other mayors and recognized people are tired of the restrictions but urged everyone to keep up with safety measures to make sure numbers, including positivity rates, don’t skyrocket.

“I am terrified that by the beginning of January, our numbers will certainly be in the double digits and possibly in the teens or even the 20s,” said Geller. “We are hoping to avoid this. Wear your masks. A lot of people keep saying that they don’t want to close down businesses. I agree with that, but the best way of ensuring that we don’t have to close down businesses is to wear your mask.”

Leaders nationwide are also keeping a close eye on valuable hospital space.

“Doctors, nurses, respiratory techs, they are tired,” said U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. “They are stressed. They are pushed to the limit.”

The Agency for Health Care Administration in Florida recorded 23% of adult ICU beds available in Broward County and 20% are available in Miami-Dade County.

At Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, 14 ICU beds are available, or 7% availability.

“We have at least 30 to 45 days of challenging times ahead of us, and we cannot afford to get to the kinds of numbers we had in South Florida back in July because even though we may have the beds, we may not necessarily have the staff,” Jackson Health CEO Carlos Migoya said. “Vaccines are not going to end this pandemic overnight. It might be spring before the general public can even get access to that first dose. Masks, hand hygiene and social distancing are going to remain absolutely vital.”

The Food and Drug Administration is set to review data for the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday. If approved, the vaccine could be available as soon as Dec. 15.

“Please, understand that, that if we don’t change what we’re doing, we are in trouble,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm with President-elect Joe Biden’s Coronavirus Task Force. “We’re seeing over and over again more hospitals in this country are right on that edge of not being able to provide that care. That’s when the number of deaths will really go up.”

Moderna’s vaccine is also expected to be available sometime in December as well.

The priority groups for the initial vaccine distribution include residents of long-term care facilities, high-risk front-line healthcare workers, and individuals 65 and older and/or those who have significant co-morbidities.

As the holiday season approaches, the CDC recommends Americans stay at home and avoid traveling.

“Please, hold the line just a little bit longer,” said Migoya.

Levine Cava and other mayors in the region have sent a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for local control when it comes to mask mandates and lockdown restrictions, but they have yet to hear back from the governor.

Those who still decide to travel are advised to get tested before and after their trips.

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