The city of Miami escalated the response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday when officials mandated that everyone inside grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores wear masks or face coverings.
When City Manager Art Noriega signed the paperwork, he issued an emergency order to South Florida’s most populous city to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. It requires all customers and employees at most retail establishments that are still open to cover their faces while inside. The measure also requires all delivery workers to don masks, as well as all construction workers on job sites.
Miami’s mask requirement goes into effect at midnight Wednesday. Mayor Francis Suarez told the Miami Herald the order will be coupled with increased enforcement, though at first, he expects police officers to help educate people before issuing fines. He said the city expects business owners to enforce the rule, and if there are rampant violations, the city would fine or shut down businesses.
“Obviously when you do this, the hope is you have a vast majority of people complying,” Suarez said.Play VideoDuration 0:45U.S. Surgeon General demonstrates how to make simple face masksU.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams makes a simple face mask out of a T-shirt. The government now suggests Americans wear face masks while out in public to slow spread of coronavirus. BY CDC
In Miami Beach, where the mandatory mask order took effect Tuesday, supermarkets posted signs outside their doors reminding customers of the new rule.
At a Trader Joe’s location on 17th Street, employees stationed at the front door checked if customers had masks. Nearby, at Fresh Market on West Avenue, a sign warned that “anyone not complying will be denied entry.” The warning seemed to be more of a recommendation — two bare-faced men entered the store Wednesday afternoon and only received nasty looks from others at the store.
Daniel Marín, a 35-year-old Miami Beach resident, said he didn’t know about the mask rule, but no one at the store asked him about it.
“The only thing I noticed is the way people look at me,” he said. “Absolutely everyone is wearing one.”
The city has not issued any citations, but the city’s Code Compliance department has made 274 calls for service and investigations related to the face covering rule.
The city of Miramar enacted similar face-covering rules this week, though City Manager Vernon Hargray’s order does not restrict employees or customers from entering businesses without masks in emergency circumstances when masks are not readily available.
Suarez said he did not envision people being turned away from grocery stores because they don’t have masks, though he urged businesses to educate the public, and he asked Miamians to make homemade masks if they don’t have anything to cover their face.
The mayoracknowledged the potentially difficult question of enforcement of the order when manufactured masks are not readily available and when the rule is being implemented overnight.
“It’s a delicate balance,” he said. “On the one hand you want to promote policies that ensure health and safety. On the other hand, these policies have consequences.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidelines encouraging people to wear cloth face coverings in public settings, such as stores, especially in areas where the coronavirus is being transmitted at higher rates.
The CDC is not recommending people wear masks used by medical professionals, which are in short supply at hospitals.
“The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators,” reads the CDC guidelines. “Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised local governments’ mask requirements on Wednesday at a press conference in Miami Beach. Before Miami’s order was signed Wednesday afternoon, DeSantis lauded Beach Mayor Dan Gelber on the local requirement to wear masks inside grocery stores and pharmacies.
“I think it’s smart. The grocery stores are packed, and when you have close contact, that’s how the virus is transmitted,” he said. “Having the mask, I think absolutely will cut down on the transmitability of that. We are working to get them more masks.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has so far only “urged” residents to wear masks outside, but has not yet issued anything mandatory countywide. He and aides have discussed tougher rules, but he told county commissioners this week there are legal complications.
“There are some issues there that concern me,” he said at a Tuesday commission meeting. “Our attorneys have some concerns about that face-mask issue.”
Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava pressed Gimenez to issue Miami-Dade’s own mask requirement, including for transit riders who can’t be at least six feet apart from each other.
“We need to do this countywide,” she said Wednesday. “I would suggest we have supplies of masks” to give passengers on buses if they don’t have face coverings of their own.
Homestead’s city government has also only urged people to cover their faces at the store.