This spring has been an incredibly difficult and trying time for our community because of the COVID-19 virus, but I’ve been so incredibly proud of how we have pulled together as neighbors and taken the necessary measures to fight the disease. The commitment exhibited to staying home and limiting social contact speaks volumes to the ties that bind us as a city.
It’s my hope that the beginning of this phase of the pandemic is nearing an end. We must now look ahead at how we restart the economy, get businesses open and people back to work. We want to put our community on a path back toward normalcy.
This decision, of course, must be based on the recommendations of our science partners, not the politicians. The path also will be largely based on when we see the peak of COVID-19 infections in our community. That date in Florida remains a little further off than the northeastern states. Health experts say the caseload should reach its maximum here sometime between April 26 and May 3.
So, then what happens?
The doctors warn us that we must take a cautious, phased approach to a return to life as it was before the virus began to spread. We risk a relapse of COVID-19 and a new outbreak in our community if we move too fast. The efforts and sacrifices made since early March cannot have been for naught.
We know the severe economic impact caused by the emergency measures, and we all want to get our lives back on track. As a city, we are committed to doing that responsibly.
What I envision is a phased approach. We likely should wait until we see a week or two of a sustained reduction in new cases so our hospital system could safely treat all new patients without crisis standards from that point forward.
Perhaps restaurants expand from just takeout and delivery services to a limited dine-in option where they operate at half of their capacity. Perhaps some recreational amenities can reopen such as beaches, parks, condo pools and boat ramps. Some businesses that were deemed non-essential could begin reopening. After all, many of us could use a hair cut by now.
COVID-19, though, will remain a constant threat until a vaccine is discovered.
As a result, it is likely that rules that require the use of face coverings in certain settings, limits on crowd sizes and standards for social distancing will be with us for some time. Large gatherings and major events will have to considered with great caution. A rigorous approach to hygiene of frequent hand-washing and surface disinfection will need to continue. And, those most at-risk should continue to stay as isolated as possible.
One thing that experts say will be important to a successful reopening of our community is more comprehensive testing for the virus. So far, we have struggled as a state and nation to provide widespread tests with quick results.
To that end, the city has been working with the Florida Panthers and Cleveland Clinic to establish a testing site at War Memorial Auditorium in Holiday Park.
The Panthers offered to pay for the site, which Cleveland Clinic would operate. We are working with state and county emergency management officials to allow this to happen and hope to have some good news soon.
I truly am thankful that COVID-19 has not had the impact in Florida that we are witnessing in New York or earlier saw in places like Italy and Spain. The prudent steps that Fort Lauderdale took early on helped ensure the virus’ impact was not as widespread initially feared.
We issued our first emergency order on March 13 — shutting down large gatherings — when there were only 11 COVID-19 cases locally. Concern about the growing number of Spring Break students on our beach prompted further action just two days later.
We acted in concert with Miami Beach to close our beach so we could ensure the Spring Break crowd did not shift between beaches because of one city acting alone. Our two cities were actually the first coastal communities in the nation to take such an action.
It was five more days before Panama City closed its beaches. The Florida Keys closed to tourists a week later. Los Angeles closed its beach 12 days later. South Carolina beaches shut down on March 30. And, it wasn’t until April 2 that Daytona Beach and Mexico closed their beachfronts.
Since then, we have continued to take leadership in our region in this fight. We led the difficult task of bringing all 31 cities in Broward County together to issue a stay-at-home order and close non-essential businesses. Our decision to require face coverings was among the first locally.
Then we had the challenge of dealing with the Holland America cruise ships that were steaming towards our port with many passengers ill from COVID-19. They had been rejected by countries around the hemisphere.
I was outraged that no protocol had been established on how the sick and those exposed to the disease would disembark at Port Everglades. Finally, the president of Holland America agreed to strict protocols that protected our community from additional spread of the virus. Given Broward County’s decision to allow the ships to dock, those regulations presented a humanitarian solution for those on board and safeguarded our community.
While there have been more than 3,100 cases in the greater Fort Lauderdale area, it could have been worse. Fast actions and responsible decisions saved lives.
I want to thank the emergency personnel on the front lines of this fight. I also ask that we mourn the 81 virus-related deaths in our community, including that of a beloved BSO deputy. Many of us have lost a friend or family member or known someone who has struggled to overcome the illness.
On final note, please know that our city continues to look for ways to help the less fortunate and those financially impacted by this pandemic.
We are starting a food distribution event in conjunction with Feeding South Florida and our neighboring cities of Oakland Park and Wilton Manors. This will occur from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday at Mills Pond Park at 2201 NW 9 Ave.
Food will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Recipients must remain in their vehicles and will be instructed to open their trunk when volunteers are ready to load it.
We hope to deliver food to 1,000 families and make this a weekly event at Mills Pond.
We are also looking for a way to provide temporary shelter for homeless individuals. Large encampments are problematic for the spread of COVID-19 so we must ramp up the efforts of the past two years to address homelessness. We are working with the United Way and hope to have a plan in place shortly.
To all residents, please continue to be cautious in your social interaction. With everyone’s help, we will get through this quickly and be back to enjoying all that makes our community a wonderful place to live.
PS - Check out the links below for some useful information regarding COVID-19.