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How Palm Beach County Is Dealing With A Spike In Coronavirus Infections


Florida is open for business. The Republicans are meeting there in August, and the NBA is relaunching its season. And yet, the state just had more than 9,500 new coronavirus infections in a single day. Some of the hardest-hit areas in the state are in South Florida. Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, a Democrat, joins us now.


DAVE KERNER: Good afternoon, Ari. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: The counties near you have required masks for a while now, but Palm Beach did not require masks until last week. When you look at the recent numbers of new infections, do you think it was a mistake to open up the county as soon as you did and not to require masks until as recently as you did?

KERNER: I think, you know, we need to look back and learn from the lessons. I can tell you as a county mayor - and this is not to shed any responsibility - at the end of the day, I answer to the people of the county. But there's no playbook. And we're trying to balance the economy versus, you know, examining the rates of infection and things of that nature. And so we've been dynamic. And as the pandemic has unfolded, we've looked and tried to be more proactive, and I can tell you that being proactive sooner than later is an important thing.

SHAPIRO: Now, you've decided to close beaches for the 4th of July weekend. Explain that thinking, because some would argue that beaches are a place where it's easier to socially distance than something like a house party.

KERNER: Well, I can assure you that some would argue any point, and that those points have been expressed very passionately to the members of the Board of County Commissioners and myself. But we were faced with a situation where we have numbers that we're not excited about, and we have two much larger counties to the south of us, both in Broward and Miami-Dade counties with larger populations, and they closed their beaches. And so we felt like we had no choice, despite the disappointment of the public, to ensure the public safety.

SHAPIRO: People would just flood north otherwise, is that what you're saying?

KERNER: You know, that's one element of it. And I'm not going to say that's the only concern that I had. But certainly having, you know, a metro population of over 5 million people looking for beaches to go to, the obvious choice is Palm Beach because we're to the north. But also, I have to be candid with you, the numbers of infections and the other trends and metrics we evaluate are not looking very good.

SHAPIRO: A spike in infections is often followed by a spike in hospitalizations. Do you have the ICU beds that you're going to need if that's what follows?

KERNER: We do right now. We are in a very good place in terms of ICU capacity.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Now, as you know, the governor, Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has been an aggressive proponent of reopening, and has not issued a statewide, mandatory face covering order. The RNC is still on for Jacksonville at the end of August. You are a Democrat. How do you navigate between the messages coming from the state capital and the very sobering reality of record numbers of infections that you're seeing all around you?

KERNER: Well, I can tell you from personal experience, I've worked very closely with the governor, Gov. DeSantis. I've worked very closely with his chief of emergency management, Jared Moskowitz. We speak daily. He's empowered local officials like myself to make the choices that are necessary. This is a very broad and diverse state. It's a very large state. And so in that regard, I've worked very well with the governor as it pertains to issues in Palm Beach County. And I'm very proud of that bipartisan working relationship.

SHAPIRO: That was Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.