Social Distancing Was Not a Thing in Wynwood This Past Weekend, but It Is Now

Sunday night marked the end of partying into the wee hours in Wynwood for a while.
Sunday night marked the end of partying into the wee hours in Wynwood for a while. Photo by Phillip Pessar / Flickr
To combat the spread of coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people limit their social interactions and avoid large crowds to reduce the chance of infections among vulnerable, higher-risk people.

But this weekend, Wynwood hadn't quite caught up to the practice of social distancing. Code enforcement shut down a Saturday-night pool party of some 800 people for violating Miami's coronavirus-related ban on special events, as blogger Al Crespo first reported. Also Saturday night, people packed the bar and lounge Rácket, and a line to get into Centro Wynwood snaked down the block. Sunday Funday continued with brunches, happy hours, and parties at venues such as El Patio, Wood Tavern, and Wynwood Factory. A late-night performance by the Latin urban artist Bulin 47 at Centro capped off the festivities.
People might not have known this while they were dancing, drinking, and Instagramming, but last night marked the end of partying into the wee hours in Wynwood. The City of Miami ordered all nonessential businesses to close at 11 p.m. to help curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Only hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and similar essential businesses within the city limits are allowed to remain open past the curfew.

That means Wynwood bars, restaurants, and nightlife spots that are usually open until 3 a.m. must shut down around the time they typically start to turn up. The city's order also places restrictions on venue capacity. Businesses are required to cut their maximum capacities in half. And those with normal capacities of 500 people or more are now capped at 250. Any business that violates those limits risks being shut down.
Wynwood's cafés, art galleries, retail stores, bars, clubs, restaurants, and public art attract all age ranges. Hordes of people pack the sidewalks every day, especially during the busier winter and spring months. As of Monday morning, most Wynwood businesses remain open and say they are stepping up hygiene practices to ensure patrons' safety. Time will tell if those measures are sufficient.

Last Friday, the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) sent businesses an email recommending that they practice good hygiene, handle food carefully, and avoid crowding.

"Use booking and scheduling to stagger customer flow; consider limiting attendance at bars, nightclubs, and larger venues to less than 70 percent of your maximum occupancy," the email stated. "And stagger seating at restaurants to every other table."

Yesterday's order from the City of Miami placed stricter restrictions on the entertainment district, although it won't be completely shut down.

"For those who feel safe and encouraged to support local businesses, I think that's important," says Albert Garcia, chairman of the Wynwood BID, a City of Miami board that represents business and property owners. "And I say that carefully because we want to support local businesses, but we also want to make sure we're following social-distancing protocols. I think that's really the balancing act."

That said, Garcia believes Wynwood businesses need to prioritize the safety of their employees and patrons and follow recommendations from local and federal agencies.

"This is not the time to make a quick buck at the expense of another neighborhood that might have stricter curfews," Garcia tells New Times.

Wynwood businesses will face a reckoning that echoes one they've faced in the past. In 2016, the neighborhood became ground zero for the Zika virus outbreak in Florida. The epidemic choked local businesses; an FIU study showed that 91 percent of businesses lost revenue after the outbreak and 84 percent saw fewer customers.

"That was a very hard time for businesses," Garcia says. "They suffered a tremendous economic loss but came back roaring stronger than before. Right now, we're in this process where things will probably get worse before they get better. Doing the right thing now will determine how quickly we bounce back."

One issue for businesses now is weighing the financial responsibilities they must meet — to creditors, landlords, and their employees — against the greater goal of public safety in the midst of a global pandemic.

As of now, Wynwood Walls and Gramps have closed voluntarily. Zak the Baker is closing its café but will accept pickup orders. Other businesses might follow suit.
Adam Gersten, owner of the beloved bar and music venue Gramps, closed up shop yesterday until further notice. Gersten began canceling planned events last week to reduce the size of crowds. He says it hurt to cancel the DJs and drag performers that Gramps regulars know and love, and he acknowledges how much performers stand to lose financially amid event cancellations.
He says he thought Miamians would avoid going out anyway, but the number of people in Wynwood Saturday night surprised him. Gersten tells New Times he wanted to close last week, but he also wanted to do right by his employees. For now, Pizza Tropical at Gramps will continue selling pizza for delivery.

"We're just trying to make the right decision, and it was weighing on me that I felt like we needed to close," Gersten says. "When the overwhelming weight of science, medical professionals, and government officials say that we need to be doing more for society — for public health — the message is clear. We can pretend we don't hear what they're saying, but I hear what they're saying. I'm not gonna pretend that I don't."

Some people have questioned whether local governments are overreacting by closing beaches, imposing curfews, transitioning public school and university classes online, and canceling major events. The CDC has spoken: Event organizers should cancel or postpone all events of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

Containment is the name of the game. That's not to say people can't go out, but should they? The simple answer is probably no. Stay home, wash your hands, don't touch your face, and seek medical attention if you become symptomatic. If you must go out, don't cough or sneeze on anyone, and don't hoard all of the toilet paper.

The more nuanced answer is that the CDC recommends different courses of action for Floridians. Not everyone can stay home from work. Not everyone has paid sick leave. Many people are in denial about COVID-19. But the general advice is to stay away from people and limit our movements as much as possible so that we don't all become vectors for disease and that the inevitable exponential growth of the illness can slow.

COVID-19 might not hit a younger, healthier person hard. But young people could expose more vulnerable people to grave risks. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, worries that young people aren't giving coronavirus the respect it's due, Politico reports.

"You are not immune or safe from getting seriously ill," Fauci said of young people on CNN's State of the Union last night. "Even though when you look at the total numbers, it's overwhelmingly weighted toward the elderly and those with underlying conditions, the virus isn't a mathematical formula. There are going to be people who are young who are going to wind up getting seriously ill."

The Florida Department of Health's update from 1:32 this morning proves that statement. Of the 39 newly confirmed positive cases in Florida, 13 people were younger than 35. Of those, two 20-somethings were diagnosed in Miami-Dade County. Four 19-year-olds, three 20-year-olds, and a 30-year-old tested positive in Broward.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alexi C. Cardona is a former staff writer at Miami New Times.