Palm Beach County Requests to Start Phase 2 Despite Increasing COVID-19 Cases
Dave Kerner, Mayor of Palm Beach County, submitted a request to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that the county transition into Phase Two of reopening despite the number of positive cases rapidly increasing.
Moving into Phase Two of reopening would entail restaurants increasing their indoor capacity with unlimited outdoor seating.
Bars would also be allowed to reopen while adhering to the same restaurant guidelines. Movie theaters, concert venues, arcades, and other entertainment businesses will reopen at 50% capacity. Tattoo, tanning, and massage parlors may also begin opening following safety procedures set by the Department of Health.
“With the flattening of the curve accomplished, we are now watching certain metrics to ensure that we are not seeing a new surge,” County Commissioner and Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth said. “Those metrics include the number of new positive cases… also the number of people who are being hospitalized… and respirator [availability]. And ultimately the number of people who are dying from the disease.”
If the percentage of people positive with COVID-19 goes above 10% of all tested, then that may prompt further action to go back down to Phase One of reopening, Weinroth added.
According to the Florida Department of Health, Palm Beach County confirmed 200 new cases on June 11, with the positivity rate currently at 8.5%. On June 10, the positivity rate stood at 10.7%. Palm Beach County had a total of 8,209 positive cases as of June 11 with that number continually rising.
“That 10% number… is something we look at, the ICU bed utilization is something we look at, the general hospital utilization number is important,” County Commissioner Hal Valeche said, “Depending, if all three are going up rapidly, I wouldn’t want to speculate, but I am sure we would… go back to Phase One. I do not think we will go back to the pre-Phase One regime.”
Valeche acknowledged the new cases and positivity rate increase by stating DeSantis will now likely allow Palm Beach County to move into Phase Two. Valeche also added that it is impossible to know when DeSantis will respond to the county’s motion to move out of Phase One.
“It’s no secret that our case numbers are going up, so we are aware of it, the governor is aware of it, and I think we are essentially pausing right now,” Valeche said.
“The numbers have gone down since the start of the pandemic, both in hospitalizations and in mortality, and the number of new cases. While it is a number that continues to grow because we continue to test more and more of our residents; the ratio of positives to the number of people being tested has stayed very close to about 8%,” Weinroth commented.
According to The Palm Beach County Department of Health, there are a total of 1,698 new positive cases with 47 new deaths in Florida. The Florida Department of Health states that in Palm Beach County, 17% of all cases required hospitalization with a total of 416 deaths.
DeSantis denied the claims of spiking COVID-19 cases and believes the majority of cases are coming from nursing homes, according to an article published in the Sun Sentinel. The Florida Department of Health currently shows the median age of positive cases at 46 years old.
Both Weinroth and Valeche agree that the main push to transition to Phase Two for the county comes from a need for economic stimulation.
“I am disappointed that our numbers have gone the way they are. Because [for] a lot of these businesses every day that they are out of customers they are getting closer to being done. And I hate to see that. But, on the other hand, the health of the public has always been our first priority,” Valeche said.
“There is a balancing between making sure everybody is being kept safe and making sure that we still have businesses that are still viable when this is all over,” Weinroth said.
Face masks and coverings are not required or enforced across the county but remain a strong suggestion.
Weinroth said that when residents contacted him regarding restaurants and servers not complying with facial coverings, he suggested they choose to not go out to that particular establishment.
“We have a small portion of our residents who are vulnerable… and it is these residents that we are really trying to protect from this and those residents now have to take additional precautions, and if that means they should be staying home and having their food delivered or having their groceries delivered, that is really the way they should be going about their business,” Weinroth said, “And most of us who are healthy have, again, made a tremendous sacrifice over several months to protect their health and now it is time that we are able to go forward with our lives. Let the kids go back to school and camp and let people again enjoy their lives.”
Valeche says if the transition into Phase Two is approved, then a special task force will be put into place to enforce compliance with social distancing practices.
“We are going to put together a group that will be focused on educating the public and ensuring compliance. They are going to be making inspections of [businesses] not complying with distance. This task force will be announced next week, and they’ll be making visits to restaurants, hotels, wherever is supposedly not following the guidelines.”
Currently, the enforcement and concurring punishments of violations is still up for debate. Once this group is announced, the instructions for businesses will be set out in more specific detail. Valeche believes that misdemeanors may be involved, and these charges will fall on the businesses, not the individual.
The Florida Department of Health releases daily reports of COVID-19 cases broken down by each county. This information can be found on their website https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429.
“The Palm Beach County Health Department is giving us feedback all along the way, and if we find we are losing control over the virus, then there would be an action to do the social distancing and perhaps make some adjustments to the businesses,” Weinroth concludes.