All of Miami-Dade County is closing restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other places that draw crowds in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez signed an executive order Tuesday morning ordering the closings by 11 p.m. He says kitchens will remain open for take-out and deliveries only. So will grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies and other places considered essential.
“I know this is a very difficult time,” Gimenez said in a video posted on YouTube. “But the only way to get ahead of COVID-19 and stop the spread of this virus is by taking some very extraordinary actions.”
At a press conference at Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said officials wrestled with making the unprecedented move as the situation rapidly changes.
“Seems like in the morning, what you do feels like it's groundbreaking. And in the afternoon, it feels tepid,” he said. “But that's the nature of what happens when you have this tsunami of potential medical and economic chaos coming at you.”
Gelber was flanked by Joe’s owner Steve Sawitz and Versailles Restaurant owner Felipe Valls.
“It strikes me as very strange and very sad to be standing here in the main dining room...with the chairs up on the tables,” Sawitz said. “It’s very empty and a sad feeling.”
Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales said violators could face criminal charges.
“These are serious offenses,” he said.
As spring breakers continue to flock to South Florida, Gelber said the closings are needed to break up crowds. Any groups of 10 or more will be asked by police to disband, officials said.
“The kids on spring break — and my own daughters just came home from spring break. My son's on break from his high school,” Gelber said. “They don't think at all about this as a threat. They believe they're invincible.”
Gelber said restaurant and other hospitality workers who may be laid off will receive a three-month extension of healthcare benefits and two weeks of lost wages. Officials said they also to obtain some state and federal emergency money set aside to deal with the virus to help workers.
In Key West, bars will close at 5 p.m., like the rest of the state, even as the island is packed with spring breakers and others already getting ready to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
An emergency City Commission meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday was canceled.