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Miami Herald: Miami mayor calls emergency meeting on possible stay-at-home order for city residents

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez on Monday called for an emergency meeting this week to discuss what’s needed for a mandatory “shelter-in-place” order and a curfew during the coronavirus emergency.

Such an order would impose new restrictions on people leaving their homes in a city of more than 400,000 people, where previous emergency orders have already closed parks and restaurants and shuttered countless businesses in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 during a global pandemic.

If Miami followed the practice of California, Illinois, New York and other states, a shelter-in-place order would allow movement for a string of “essential” activities, including dog walking, grocery shopping and travel to work for vital businesses like grocery stores and hospitals.

Suarez called for the meeting to be held Wednesday at 8 p.m. using phone or video technology, with the five commissioners and the public participating remotely. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order last week suspending a state law requiring members of an elected body to convene at a single location.

Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla said he tried to call a special meeting on his own last week. But when he failed to secure signatures from two other members on the five-member board, Diaz de la Portilla said Suarez accepted his request to use the mayor’s authority to set a commission meeting and that he’s sponsoring the legislation required for a shelter-in-place decree.

“We should have done this last Friday,” Diaz de la Portilla said of a shelter-in-place order. “People are playing basketball. They’re not exercising personal responsibility.”

Commissioner Ken Russell, who spent part of the weekend testing out technology for an unprecedented remote meeting, said the city probably isn’t ready to reproduce the kind of Zoom-style video chat that would let the public participate in real time. Instead, a citizen wishing to speak would likely have to send in a recording during public comment or an email.

“It doesn’t look like we will have the bandwidth to have the public stream in and have their voice heard by the commission,” Russell said.

The commissioner said he’s not ready to commit to attending the meeting. Quorum rules are still in effect, meaning at least three of the five commissioners must participate. Russell said he needs assurances first that citizens can use the voicemail or email option to be heard. “We’re close,” he said.

The Suarez announcement states other coronavirus topics are on the proposed agenda, including meals for seniors, COVID-19 testing at Marlins Park, and general briefing about the crisis. Suarez would need an opinion from city lawyers that Miami has emergency powers to confine residents to their homes.

If they find Suarez doesn’t have that authority, commissioners could request a stay-at-home decree from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. On Monday, county Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, a 2020 candidate for county mayor, released a letter calling on Gimenez to issue a shelter-in-place order for Miami-Dade’s more than 2.7 million residents.

After a weekend where Gimenez issued a late-night order closing marinas to stop packed boat parties reported by the Miami Herald, Levine Cava said not enough people are heeding calls to stay at home and avoid gatherings.

“The headlines from this weekend reaffirm why we need to move swiftly because too many are not following the guidance from the CDC, state and local officials on social distancing,” Levine Cava wrote.

At a press conference Monday, DeSantis continued to resist a statewide order, arguing the experience of other states shows they don’t work because people won’t comply.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to have a group of people that are not going to comply, that are going to put themselves first,” he said Monday. “I would just say for those folks, you need to cool it.”

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