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Miami Restaurant Community Plans Protests Over New Dining Restrictions

Scheduled for July 9 and 10

Virus Outbreak Canada Photo by Sayed Najafizada/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Miami-Dade restaurant owners are planning protests today and tomorrow to voice their disapproval of the new dining restrictions set by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, with his emergency order banning indoor dining at all restaurants throughout the county starting today.

The emergency order also closed ballrooms, banquet facilities, party venues, and short-term rentals. As of now, the beaches can stay open along with retail, office buildings, salons, and gyms as long as people wear masks the entire time, and various outdoor activities like summer camps.

The first protest will take place at today, July 9, in front of Gimenez’s office at 111 NW 1st Street at 1 p.m., and the second protest will take place tomorrow, July 10, in front of the AmericanAirlines Arena at 601 Biscayne Boulevard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Both require participants to wear masks and remain socially distant.

The reason for the protests? The restaurants want to show a united front on a few key issues affecting the industry, according to one of Friday’s protest organizers, Nick Sharp, who owns Threefold Cafe. The biggest issue is how the order was communicated to the restaurants and to the public: via Gimenez’s Twitter account, with just a few days notice, without local municipalities involved in the county’s decision-making process.

“These Twitter message updates are just not acceptable,” says Sharp. “Literally businesses will close in weeks because of this mandate. It’s not a joke. It’s people livelihoods and it’s clearly not thought-through.”

Sharp adds, “Our main request is you have to communicate better than that, and we need dining rooms open until there are a few other things worked out.”

Gimenez’s announcement and the backlash comes following a week of tense exchanges between restaurant owners and county officials. More than 50 restaurant owners sent a letter to Gimenez’s office on July 7 voicing their concerns that the new restrictions unfairly targeting the restaurant industry, saying, “We are, of course, as citizens, concerned about the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Florida, and especially Miami-Dade. However, the entire restaurant industry cannot be held accountable for the rise in coronavirus cases without concrete proof that coronavirus is highly transmittable in a restaurant setting.”

In the letter, they also asked for a countywide plan to address the recent spikes, revisions to the “New Normal” guidelines since they “have not worked to decrease the number of new COVID cases,” and for restaurant owners to be part of the government decisions regarding the hospitality industry moving forward. The restaurant owners asked in the letter to keep indoor dining open until they get answers to their questions.

However with cases surging throughout the state — 9,989 cases reported statewide just yesterday, the fourth-highest daily total since the pandemic began — Gimenez doesn’t seem to be backing down from the current emergency order after revising it earlier in the week to allow for outdoor seating. The original announcement on July 6 said the county would close all in-person dining, only letting restaurants do takeout and delivery, but was revised hours later to allow for outdoor dining.

“Taking off your mask in an interior space, according to our experts, is dangerous because the virus spreads as people talk,” noted Gimenez in a joint press conference earlier this week with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He also added that restaurants didn’t do anything wrong, saying, “It’s just the nature of the business and the number of people and the percentage of positives that we have in Miami-Dade.”

Gimenez said that the restrictions will be set in place until the county reaches a 5 percent COVID-19 positivity rate, which is the standard set by the World Health Organization. Currently Miami-Dade County’s 14-day average of COVID-19 positive cases is at 22.7 percent, according to the New Normal dashboard.

“We’re not arguing to shut down or not, but the way that it’s done is not acceptable,” added Sharp. “How stupid are we if we don’t learn from the things we did just a few months ago?”