Miami, Florida Mayor Francis Suarez joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss his coronavirus concerns as Governor Ron DeSantis drops restrictions on restaurant and bars in the state.
KRISTIN MYERS: Let's move on instead right now to what we are seeing in Florida, at least on the coronavirus front. Now, in Florida, in Miami-Dade County [AUDIO OUT] the city of Miami, they've reported 620 new cases of coronavirus with 15 deaths. Positivity for new cases has leapt from 2.72% percent to 6.87%, so a big leap there.
So let's talk about this now with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. So, Mayor when I hear some of those figures, particularly that the positivity rate has increased in your county-- that doesn't really inspire confidence, at least to me, that this decision to reopen dining and reopen bars is the right decision to make. And I was speaking with a doctor on Monday who called that decision to reopen dining, to reopen bars-- who called it, quote "premature and reckless." I know this is something that is coming from Governor DeSantis. But I'm wondering if you think that this is the right move for your state to make.
FRANCIS SUAREZ: I spoke about this yesterday. And we were on a task force call with Dr. Birx, Fauci, Redfield, and Adams, who are normally on the call. And Dr. Birx, who's heads the task force, said she was deeply concerned, were her words, about this decision.
We had a very methodical plan. We were lifting mitigation factors slowly and then waiting a couple of weeks to see if that increase in mitigation, or release of mitigations, was increasing the number of cases. That strategy had brought us-- that and in conjunction with our mask-in-public rule, which is right now in sort of a limbo if you will, brought us from a high point of 3,500 new cases a day down to a level where our last 7-day average was in the low 400s-- so almost a 90% reduction. So the strategy was working.
And the governor's executive order does a few things. One of the things that it does, that honestly for me is difficult, is that it takes away our ability to do some of the things that we were doing that were successful. And I've expressed that to the governor. I've expressed that publicly.
Because I think one of the things that he was doing well before, frankly aside from his accessibility, was the fact that he was allowing us in different cities to do what we thought we needed to do and impose the rules that we thought we needed to do. With this executive order, which came very late on a Friday and was a little bit confusing, it took away that right for us to do that.
KRISTIN MYERS: So to that point, I know that this is taking away your right to essentially make some regulations, extra regulations as you might see fit within your city. But obviously lives are at stake here. I'm wondering if you would at all defy that order from the governor if you start to see in Miami those case counts start to surge and spike again.
FRANCIS SUAREZ: Well, I hope it hasn't come to that. Our county mayor and I spoke multiple times on Friday. He issued an order on Saturday that tried to work around the governor's executive order.
We implemented the mask-in-public rule. It just postponed the collection of fines until after the emergency was over. It created some regulations on the openings of bars and the openings of restaurants, that the governor's order had left up in the air.
For example, the governor's order required all businesses to be open, including bars. And so there wasn't any regulations that came along with that. So we had to implement some regulations.
So we're hoping, again, that we were able to make the very best situation out of a complicated and nebulous order that we received on Friday. And we're hoping that that stems us from being in a situation where-- some of the images that we saw this weekend don't inspire a lot of confidence.
So listen, we'll see where it goes. We're gonna know in the next week or two what the impact of this is. And certainly if it's negative, as many experts believe that it will be, and the experts that we talked to on the coronavirus task force, then I will certainly be calling the governor and asking him to reconsider.
KRISTIN MYERS: If he doesn't reconsider-- and I don't want to keep pushing on this point. But if he doesn't reconsider, would you at all say, listen, Miami is going to have to go a different route and a different path? Because your primary concern would be to the residents of the city of Miami and trying to keep them safe.
FRANCIS SUAREZ: The problem is that if he doesn't reconsider, then we don't really have an enforcement mechanism. So let's say, for example, masks-in-public. If he didn't reconsider that, then whatever tickets we would issue would be meaningless 'cause anyone would just be able not to have to pay them.
The same thing with a closure of a business. If we closed a business for violating one of our rules, and the governor's order allowed it to stay open, then we wouldn't have a meaningful mechanism to enforce that closure. So it really-- 'cause they can sue us. And they can basically prevent us from doing that.
So it really requires-- and one of the things that we've talked about with all of the experts throughout this entire pandemic is it requires coordination. It requires collaboration. And so that's what I'm gonna strive for.
And I'm gonna hope-- look, you always hope for the best. Right? You hope that the doomsday scenario that many experts are predicting doesn't happen. If it does happen, I'll be right there vociferously requesting help.
KRISTIN MYERS: So we talk a lot. And you seem to be hinting at quite a bit about the politicization of this virus. This is something that we hear from the doctors and the public health officials that we've talked to just on this show. I'm wondering if you are also similarly feeling that strain, if you feel as if the politicization around this pandemic has perhaps tied your hands behind your back as the mayor and preventing you from doing what you think might be best for your city?
FRANCIS SUAREZ: Well, listen, there's no doubt that this order tied our hands. It opened up businesses that we were not ready to open. And it prevented us from using enforcement mechanisms, like fining people for not wearing a mask in public, that we were relying on.
I hope and pray that it wasn't a political decision. I spoke to the governor. He didn't give me any indication that it was. He simply relies on a different set of experts that have a different view of where we are in terms of this virus, one that's not shared by the experts that I consult with. And it's not shared, frankly, by the experts in the coronavirus task force.
So I think there's certainly a difference of opinion. I really, really hope and pray that it's not a political decision. Because if it is, I don't think it's a good political decision.
KRISTIN MYERS: I want to ask you now about stimulus. The negotiations have continued to stall, although we do have some optimism that a deal might be forthcoming. Now, I know Governor DeSantis applied for that unemployment enhancement that was from the president through that executive order, that $300 unemployment boost, applied for that benefit behind a few other states, which have actually already run out of benefits. I'm wondering how much the city of Miami and its residents really need economic relief right now.
FRANCIS SUAREZ: I can't even state how much. We went from a situation where we had a surplus in our budget year, current budget year, to a deficit. It was a $45 million delta in our incoming budget year. It was a $33 million deficit.
So from a governmental perspective, we're looking at the possibility of having to layoff police officers and firefighters if we're not able to get concessions from our labor partners. And that's simply a place where you never want to be.
In terms of our regular residents, everyday residents, we never got a penny. We have not gotten a penny right now of that CARES Act relief money because we have a population that's slightly below the 500,000 threshold.
And that's one of the reasons why the League of Cities and the US Conference of Mayors have bound together, a bipartisan group of mayors asking the federal government first to allow us to use CARES Act money for revenue shortfalls, or deficits-- and secondly, to make sure that that money waterfalls down, that it comes down and gets to our cities. We lost out on $80 million that we should have gotten simply because our population is slightly less.
I think it's like 480,000 to a 500,000 threshold. And many, many cities got left out. I think there was only 35 cities that actually got direct payments. So, very few, only one city in Florida.
KRISTIN MYERS: I want to ask you as a last question while I still have some more time with you, Mayor-- I was in Miami back in May. I saw all the beaches. It was not a great time to be in Miami, I will say. My first time visiting, and all of the beaches were closed, all of the bars, all the restaurants.
Now, I've been talking with restaurant owners up here in New York. And they are worried about their ability to continue to hang on, particularly with winter coming. And I know that Miami obviously has much better luck when it comes to weather than we do here in New York.
But at least from business owners, are you hearing from them that they are concerned, that they are worried that they might not be able to hang on much longer? Or are restaurant owners cheering this decision to reopen dining in the city, in the state?
FRANCIS SUAREZ: I think restaurant owners, the ones that I've talked to, they were making do with-- we had a 50%-- we allowed for indoor dining up to a 50% threshold. And we had found ways to expand outdoor dining. So one of the things we did was we allowed the use of parking spaces to increase the number of tables. So we were very creative and very flexible so we can get people closer to that 100% occupancy rate.
I think where restaurants are now concerned is they see that if the kind of behavior that we saw over this weekend continues and we have a another mass spread, another wave, that could jeopardize all the progress that we've made. It could jeopardize our entire economy.
So I think that's the real fear that I've heard from restaurant owners. 'Cause we don't want to go backwards. We feel like we were progressing, slowly but surely getting better and better and better. And now there's a possibility that if things spike quickly that we could go backwards.
KRISTIN MYERS: All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Mayor Francis Suarez.