MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Members of Miami-Dade County’s restaurant industry came together to protest Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s Emergency Order which shuts down indoor restaurant dining rooms in the face of rising coronavirus cases.
As they protested, an infectious disease specialist told CBS4 that indoor dining right now in Miami-Dade County was not safe and the Miami Mayor said he was taking issue with epidemiologists being too conservative.
Watch CBS4’s Mike Cugno’s report:
Dozens of Restaurant owners, workers, and just about anyone who are against the Executive Order gathered outside the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami Friday for the “Support Miami-Dade Restaurants” protest.
Protest organizers said they want restaurant dining rooms to be reopened, “until there is clear evidence that closing them is part of a realistic plan that will effectively manage the current crisis in the spread of COVID.”
They chanted “Save Miami restaurants” and “You are scapegoating restaurants and blame-shifting” and “This is our livelihood.”
Jorge Llapur, the owner of five Cuban Guys restaurants in Miami-Dade, told CBS4’S Peter D’Oench, “What’s happening is the way it is being done. If there were some specific science tying restaurant dining to the Coronavirus increase, I would voluntarily close my restaurant. This has been detrimental. I let go of 40 to 50 employees. These were people I rehired then I had to let them go again.”
Ani Meinhold, the owner of Phuc Yea restaurant who organized the protest, said, “This has been crippling. Fifty to sixty percent of our revenues are gone and this affects 35 employees. That’s 35 families we are talking about and they are not making anywhere near the amount of money they were making last year at this time.”
Miami is a food lovers’ destination and organizers say independently owned restaurants are at the heart of the South Florida community.
“COVID-19 has caused many local favorite restaurants to close down, and the new local mandate will close even more – local favorites included,” said Meinhold in a statement earlier in the day.
“Right now, many restaurants are surviving, not thriving. We have given it our all – invested in as many ways as possible to keep our doors open, our employees staffed, and our families fed.”
She says restaurants have adapted to ensure safety measures are met, risked their own lives to provide refuge and a sense of normalcy through the pandemic, adapted and reinvented themselves to keep the community fed, happy and safe and also invested time and effort into the implementation of the rigorous CDC opening guidelines.
Michael Sponaugle, the owner of the BUYA restaurant, said “It’s been devastating. We’re not a bunch of playboys running around on drugs. We are fathers and husbands and employers. We laid off 22 employees yesterday and those are people with mouths to feed.”
Gimenez said earlier this week that indoor dining will not reopen until the County’s positivity rate drops back down to 10%. Friday, it was at 24.87% while Thursday, it reached a record high of 33.5% .
D’Oench also spoke with Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist at Florida International University. “I feel so sad for restaurant owners,” she said. “I know they are working very hard to make this work.”
But she noted that the percentage of people testing positive for the Coronavirus in Miami-Dade made indoor dining unsafe.
She said the average positivity rating for the past two weeks was 24.28% and the positivity rating for Thursday of 33.5% was very troubling.
“That means one in three people in a restaurant are likely to be positive. That amount of virus where people have to remove their masks to eat and drink outs an unacceptable level of the virus in to the atmosphere in amounts that are too heavy. This is not safe to dine indoors right now and the Mayor was correct in doing the right thing and helping our community.”
But as he passed out face masks in Allapattah—-one of the hot spots for the Coronavirus—-the Mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, said “An epidemiologist will always tell you to close up. That’s what they are going to tell you because they are
Scientists. They don’t want to spread it to even one person and that is understandable. But our decisions are broader than that. We have to take medical advice and we have to take economic impact and put it all together.”