Miami Beach and coastal cities, by order or plea, tell residents to stay home

Absent guidance from Gov. Ron DeSantis, multiple local governments in Miami-Dade on Monday ordered their residents to stay home as much as possible, allowing them only to leave their houses to exercise, get food and medicine, go to work if they have essential jobs and do other activities deemed necessary.

Following a conference call Monday with other cities and municipalities along the county’s east coast, Miami Beach became the first city in the county to enact a stay-at-home order. As many as nine other municipalities in North Dade are expected to enact similar orders.

“By us banding together and passing something like this, it may lead the way, may spark something,” said J.C. Jimenez, the town manager for Bay Harbor Islands.

The Beach’s new rules, which City Manager Jimmy Morales signed Monday afternoon to take effect Tuesday, were modeled after a “Safer at Home” order enacted in the city of Los Angeles on March 19. The rules passed by Bay Harbor Islands and Bal Harbour Village followed the same template, but used the words “strongly urge” instead of “order.”

“People should only be outside for exercise and attending to their necessities like shopping for groceries or visiting a pharmacy,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said in a statement. “It won’t be like this forever, but for now in a community like ours this makes the most sense.”

Miami leaders will discuss a similar order at an emergency meeting Wednesday night.

The joint effort on the municipal level will increase pressure on Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to take similar action countywide. He released a memo Monday throwing cold water on that idea, and arguing that the city decrees mostly repackage closure orders he’s already issued for parks, entertainment options and non-essential businesses.

“While ‘shelter in place’ is the buzz phrase of the day, telling residents to actually do so could be confusing, especially for our seniors,” Gimenez wrote in a response to County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who also wants a countywide order to remain at home. “My messaging is much clearer and less panic-inducing.”

Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami commissioner backing a shelter-in-place order there, chastised Gimenez for criticizing stronger language from cities after a string of emergency orders with changing rules and escalating restrictions.

“The only thing ‘panic inducing’ and ‘confusing’ are his contradictory, know-it-all decrees that keep changing by the day,” Diaz de la Portilla said.

While the county mayor has called on residents to stay indoors as much as possible, Gimenez’s March 19 order closing non-essential businesses did not instruct residents to remain at home. The Miami Beach order includes stern language, stating “all persons living within the city of Miami Beach are hereby ordered to remain in their homes” subject to multiple exemptions.

The Miami Beach order, which was drafted Monday after discussions among elected officials, instructs members of the public to remain in their homes except to go to work, exercise outdoors, seek medical or veterinary care, care for family members, shop for groceries and pet supplies, or abide by law enforcement or court orders, according to a copy of the order obtained by the Miami Herald.

Bal Harbour Village Mayor Gabriel Groisman said officials from 10 Miami-Dade municipalities participated in a conference call Monday to discuss the language of the Beach order.

In addition to Miami Beach and Bal Harbour, the other local governments on the call were Bay Harbor Islands, Surfside, Golden Beach, Indian Creek, Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, North Bay Village and Key Biscayne, officials said.

“It’s imperative for all residents to stay home as much as possible,” Groisman said. “It’s very telling that mayors from 10 cities today joined together on a phone call, all with the same goal, which was to find ways to encourage our residents to stay home so we can get through this crisis as quickly as possible.”

Jimenez said Miami Beach officials drafted the proposed language and distributed it to the nine other cities after 3 p.m. Monday. Bay Harbor Islands passed a similar order Monday, except instead of ordering residents to stay home, the town “strongly” urges them to. He added that there seemed to be some “frustration” at the fact that county and state officials have yet to issue stay-at-home orders of their own.

“I think we’re all gonna be doing the same thing, adopting the same language,” Jimenez said of the 10 cities.

In a Facebook Live address on Monday evening, North Bay Village Mayor Brent Latham said the village’s version of the stay-at-home measure was not an order, but a “sincere” recommendation.

“This evening, along with nine other municipalities along the coastal region, we will be issuing a safe-at-home directive,” he said. “It’s not an order. It’s not anything really obligating you to do anything new, but what it is is a directive, our sincere and total recommendation, that from this point forward you stay safe in your home.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted calls from Florida Democrats to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. He reiterated his stance during a virtual press conference Monday, saying stay-at-home orders were ineffective and onerous.

“You simply cannot lock down our society with no end in sight,’’ he said during a teleconference from the governor’s office.

“And the fact of the matter is, a governor is not going to start imprisoning people just because they leave their house,’’ he added. “So you’re going to have a lot of non-compliance.”

Miami Beach was the first major city in Florida to restrict business operations when Morales signed an emergency order on March 13 limiting occupancy at restaurants and bars. Since then, the city has closed its restaurants and bars, except for pickup and delivery, shuttered hotels and enacted a 12 a.m. curfew.

Morales, who declared a state of emergency in the city on March 12, wields unilateral decision-making power to issue emergency orders. The City Commission voted to extend his powers to last until April 23.

Miami-Dade County closed its parks and public beaches, most hotels and non-essential businesses.

Florida, which is experiencing community spread of the coronavirus, has become an outlier compared to other large states that acted more quickly to restrict the movement of its residents and the operations of businesses in the face of a global pandemic.

Aventura Mayor Enid Weisman said her city was not waiting for Tallahassee to enact a statewide stay-at-home measure.

“In the interest of public health and public safety, we know that we have to flatten the curve,” she said. “We feel like taking this action is very important to public health.

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