Miami mayor distributes masks to businesses, residents in ZIP code with high COVID-19 infection rate

MIAMI (WSVN) - City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez handed out 50,000 face masks to residents and business owners in one of the ZIP codes that has a high COVID-19 infection rate.

The distribution event was held near the intersection at Northwest 17th Avenue and 36th Street, in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood, which started at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday.

“We’re going to be giving them out to business owners and residents in this ZIP code because it’s one of the most vulnerable,” said Suarez.

The mayor said the masks will be needed more often now that several Miami-Dade County municipalities, including Miami, are requiring residents to wear face coverings in public spaces at all times.

“We are in the process of implementing masks in public, and so that order is about to be finalized,” he said.

7News captured Suarez, a COVID-19 survivor himself, distributing face masks at a Metro by T-Mobile business.

“Each one of those has 10,” he said to the store employees.

The mayor was later seen handing out the masks to families who were standing in line.

“You got a nice haircut. That’s 30 masks for you and your family,” he said to a boy in line.

The event’s location fell into the 33142 ZIP code, one of the three that has recently had a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases.

“When I go places, to be safe,” said recipient Aliyah Hill.

Hill and her grandmother lined up with dozens of others to grab a pack of face masks, while others took extra to hand out to neighbors and friends.

“This is my community, and we want to make sure that everybody is safe,” said recipient Fabian Martinez.

The other two ZIP codes with high infection rates are 33125 and 33126, and officials are trying to determine what is the cause of uptick in cases for these areas.

The surge has also caused concerns as to whether local hospitals will be able to accommodate an influx in patients.

“Increasing cases that are just not presenting to the hospitals or to the clinics, but actually getting admitted, including increasing cases going into the [intensive care unit],” said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist at Florida International University.

Tuesday afternoon, officials with Baptist Health said the ICU at Homestead Hospital is currently at capacity.

A statement from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office reads, “We are aware that the ICU at Homestead Hospital is full. Baptist Health has issued a statement indicating that they are able to manage capacity through patient transfers. And, as most of the hospitals in Miami-Dade County, the facility has the ability to convert beds to ICU beds and acute care beds, if necessary.”

These latest developments come as cases of coronavirus continued to spike across the state. On Tuesday, Florida added more than 3,200 cases for a total of 103,506.

Miami-Dade County, meanwhile, added 583 new cases, and Broward reported 417.

Suarez said more than a dozen mayors share his concerns about the recent increase in infections.

“What we did yesterday was express an intention,” Suarez said. “We had an opportunity because we had 15 mayors that were there, and we wanted to do something collaboratively, and you saw a lot of the mayors expressed their intentions to do it as well.”

Health experts believe the masks will not only lower the number of new cases but also prevent another stay-at-home order.

“If Florida had a blanket mask requirement, we could drive our numbers down and have our economy healthy again without having to face another lockdown,” said Marty.

While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t support a requirement, he does support the use of facial coverings.

“When you can’t socially distance and keep that six feet, wearing the face mask and help reduce transmission is very important,” he said.

Some believed the warmer summer months would slow the spread of the virus, but health experts explained why the outdoor heat is likely not making a difference.

“The virus mostly gets transmitted in indoor spaces. Our indoor spaces are climate controlled, and the climate in our indoor spaces tends to be ideal for the virus,” said Marty. “It really doesn’t matter how hot it is outside if we go inside and contaminate ourselves.”

DeSantis had a stern warning to any business that is not following the rules.

“Just suspend the license, and then we’ll move on, and then people will hopefully get the message,” he said. “These guidelines are in place for a reason.”

Suarez said the exceptions to the mandatory face mask requirement will likely apply when residents are working out or eating at a restaurant.

Because hospitalizations across South Florida are currently up, Gimenez said, they will be strictly enforcing the new normal guidelines that the county has put into place.

Tuesday evening, Jackson Health System reported they currently have 210 patients, and they have already safely discharged 760 patients. Baptist Health, meanwhile, reported 286 patients system-wide and have discharged 1,350 people.

Gimenez said that when it comes to hospital beds and ICU capacity, the county is currently at 30% capacity.

On the vaccine front, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, believes a vaccine could be on the horizon soon.

“I still think that there is a reasonably good chance that by the very beginning of 2021 that, if we’re going to have a vaccine, that we will have it by then,” he said.

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