MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With COVID-19 cases rising, a number of South Florida mayors pleaded with Governor Ron DeSantis to make mask-wearing in public mandatory statewide.

“Positive cases are rising steeply, and it’s spreading,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. “What Florida is doing isn’t working. Florida is failing horribly.”

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Other mayors on a Zoom call meeting Wednesday afternoon, agreed

“If we don’t act boldly, we will regret it,“ said Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan.

“All we are simply doing is calling in the governor to use the power that all Florida residents gave him to help all Floridians,” Miami Shores Mayor Crystal Wagar said.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández said, “This isn’t Democrats or Republicans. I’m a conservative.”

Governor DeSantis lifted all statewide COVID restrictions in September and banned local governments from enforcing mask mandates.

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The mayors say fines worked and want to bring them back. They also want the state
to ramp up testing again to stem long lines.

Gelber said the vaccine won’t be here for at least six more months.

Wynwood business owner Andrea Battista, whose hair salon business has been more than cut in half by the pandemic.

He said he wouldn’t mind a statewide maks mandate.

“I wear mine 12 hours a day. We need to do it to get back to normal.”

His business and Miami residents hit hard financially from COVID can now apply for millions in relief money.

Miami’s Mayor Francis Suarez says it’s simple to apply.

“You have to sign an affidavit and you will be sent a $250 gift card,” Suarez said.

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Miami businesses are eligible for more grants. Up to $20,000.

David Masaira who runs Miami restaurant says he will apply. “Sometimes during the weekend, we get packed, but we don’t have enough money to add staff,” he says.

Here is the text of the letter Mayor Gelber sent to Governor DeSantis:

Dear Governor DeSantis:

This isn’t working. It is unmistakably clear that Florida’s approach to managing this pandemic is failing horribly. Since you reopened all elements of commerce in late September and, simultaneously, prevented local government from enforcing individual mask mandates, positive cases have risen steeply, as have resulting hospitalizations. Unfortunately, increased deaths are expected to follow as well.

The herd immunity theory advanced by your advisors, namely that we can allow this virus to spread in a controlled way while protecting the vulnerable, was wrong in theory and is being proven a disaster in practice. If we fail to change direction, there is no reason to believe these devastating trendlines will recede.

Today, a number of mayors across Florida pled with you to change course. We asked that you:

• Implement a statewide mask mandate; • Allow local government to enact remedial measures addressing local conditions including enhanced mask enforcement, capacity limits, and social distancing requirements; • Restore state testing facilities and operations to fullest capacity; • Implement best practices for contact tracing including authorizing DOH to allow use of the GoogleApple enterprise (GAEN) app for contact tracing on the local level.

We won’t need to return to lock-downs if we are allowed to manage the virus through implementation of these best practices.

Mask usage is obviously essential. The data proves that after we implemented it, our community saw a substantial reduction in virus spread. I believe if you were to implement a statewide mask mandate it would save thousands of lives. It is also vital that local governments be given freedom to fashion remedies that respond to local challenges. For instance, my community which receives millions of visitors every year might have different challenges than places that only have a local resident population to worry about.

We also need to have more available testing. The State’s decision to roll back availability of testing centers has not simply inconvenienced many Floridians but, more importantly, made it difficult for many to get tested when they most need to. In many communities the waits are increasing every day as more people are concerned that they may be infected.

Finally, the State’s contact tracing program is still failing to do its job of curbing spread of the virus. In my own County, for instance, during the two-week period ending November 13, your contact tracers only interviewed 45% of newly infected residents to discover who else might be infected and to assure they quarantine. Additionally, our State, unlike many other states, declined to develop an app to assist contact tracing and has not authorized use of the Google-Apple Enterprise (GAEN) app that may prove effective in curbing the spread of the disease. Without state approval, it cannot be used statewide or on the local level. Please consider directing your Department of Health to allow local governments the option to utilize the app as it may prove effective in some circumstances, but without your approval we will never know.

A vaccine is on the horizon, but the pandemic will not be in our rear-view mirror for likely six more months. I fully share your goal of reopening the economy and avoiding debilitating lockdowns. And I know you are similarly concerned about the health of our residents. But I believe your approach is neither saving lives or livelihoods. Our State’s primary economic engine is hospitality and people will not travel here if they believe it is unsafe. In fact, I’m convinced that projecting our State as a place where people are not wearing masks and where the virus is allowed to spread unconstrained will only serve to discourage visitors. In my community I have seen responsible hoteliers, restaurateurs and businesspeople adopt health and safety standards that foster customer confidence that translates into more patrons. This has to be the model for our State’s way out.

Please consider these recommendations.

Thanks for your service,

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Dan Gelber