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‘Stop playing these little games’: South Florida mayors call for more contact tracers

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MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA/WTVJ) – Several Miami-Dade County mayors spoke out Thursday to call attention to what they say is a shortage of contact-tracing investigators in the county – and throughout Florida.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez recently announced a $14 million agreement that would provide for an extra 250 tracers in the county through the end of the year, according to WFLA’s NBC affiliate in Miami.

“Miami-Dade County has been ready to step in and do whatever is possible within the state’s purview.  So, I’m very happy today that we are moving forward,” Gimenez said in a statement.

However, despite this announcement, mayors from the four cities in Miami-Dade County felt it wasn’t enough to help protect the community and called for more hiring.

“We need 500 right now. We’ve seen the percentage of actual contacts drop to a dangerous level,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said.

Additionally, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert pointed to the continued long lines for testing at the Hard Rock Stadium site as the reason residents need to take personal responsibility while the number of contact tracers is low.

“I encountered someone who is positive for COVID-19 and it was like it was a secret with him,” Gilbert said. “Contact tracing is the official name that the government gives it. What we call it out here in the community is understanding that you’ve been infected and telling the people that you’re sick. This isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

In the meantime, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber emphasized the fact that, while more contact tracing is needed, residents need to continue to social distance and to wear a mask when out in public.

“We are trying our hardest to get people to wear masks. We have penalties. We have ambassadors walking around giving away free masks…but the way we get people to wear masks is the same way we get people during hurricanes to do what they always do in our community. We explain to them that it is important to sacrifice for a loved one, to a neighbor and to a stranger,” Gelber said. “Just wear a mask. It doesn’t mean you support one political party or another, it doesn’t mean that you are weak. In fact, it is a demonstration of strength because what it really does is let people know you’re willing to make a sacrifice for someone you may not even know or for a loved one.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Miami with Gimenez on Tuesday to discuss the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and to announce the state had established a 150-bed nursing home for treating COVID-19 patients in South Florida.

During the meeting, DeSantis mentioned when it comes to fighting the pandemic, “contact tracing is not going to be enough,” and urged residents to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez called the interaction between DeSantis and Gimenez “embarrassing.”

Hernandez said he hasn’t had or been invited to a meeting with Gimenez to discuss the county’s coronavirus efforts and has found out some of his decisions via the news outlets in the area.

“We need to have serious communication from the top to the bottom,” Hernandez said. “Why at this stage of the game…are we asking ‘where are the tracers?'”

“Stop playing these little games and it’s time for us to get together because at the end of the day, our community is paying for all of this,” he said.

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