This morning, a group led by progressive activist Thomas Kennedy dropped off two dozen body bags at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami to symbolize the 7,400 Floridians who have died from COVID-19 and to demand that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez take action immediately.
"We dropped a dozen bags specifically to call out Governor DeSantis, who has turned this state into the epicenter of this pandemic globally and Miami-Dade itself, the epicenter within the epicenter," Kennedy tells New Times. "We call on these two elected officials to stop playing games, to listen to the experts, and to take this seriously, because we have not been taking this seriously."
Kennedy, who works for the immigrant-rights group United We Dream, has been critical of DeSantis' handling of the pandemic and recently interrupted the governor's own press conference, shouting, "Shame on you! You are an embarrassment! You are an embarrassment! We are getting record-breaking cases every day, and you are doing nothing."
At the group's press conference this morning, public school teacher Laura Leigh Rampey, physician Lorena Bonilla, Lulu's Ice Cream owner Luisa Santos, and Gramps tavern owner Adam Gersten spoke about how different industries are hurting amid the pandemic.
"We have not met the benchmarks required to responsibly open schools in Florida — that is why Miami-Dade County, the fourth-largest school district in the county, is not reopening schools," Kennedy says. "It is not just about having kids in the schools. You have to have teachers, faculty, janitors, and cafeteria staff. You are putting a lot of people at risk. It is a liability and, quite frankly, insane."
As a healthcare professional, Bonilla discussed potential public-health policies as well as the hardships some immigrants face in obtaining healthcare or testing.
Finally, Santos and Gersten spoke about their struggle to stay in business, their worries about their employees, and the failures of the unemployment system.
Although Kennedy says he placed the body bags in a location that would not disturb the area or disrupt the activities of local government, the group faced pushback from a county employee and a security guard.
"Immediately, a county employee and a security guard came and were like, 'You have to remove this right now. What you are doing is illegal. You can't have this equipment here,'" Kennedy says. "The security guard kept telling me this isn't a press conference, this is a protest."
According to Kennedy, the security guard placed his golf cart in between the media and the speakers, something Kennedy believes is akin to censorship. The golf cart was eventually moved out of the way.
Kennedy hopes DeSantis will follow the lead of Miami Dade-County in instituting a statewide mask mandate to help stop the spread of COVID-19, although he notes it would still be too little, too late.
"We are all well over 7,000 [deaths], and DeSantis still does not want to institute one," he says. "It is insane."
Although Giménez has taken more precautions compared to leaders of other Florida counties, he has been criticized for reopening restaurant dining rooms back in May, only to close them again in July.
As of today, there have been 497,330 COVID-19 cases in Florida and around 28,000 resident hospitalizations.