In what is demonstrably the incorrect way to respond to an escalating pandemic and public health crisis, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez during an emergency coronavirus meeting yesterday praised county officials for refusing to cancel outdoor events owing to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Then he complained he's sick of hearing about this darn virus already.
"I'm glad we're not at this point even considering canceling any events," Martinez said from the dais. He joked that his own county commission meeting ought to be canceled too. "Because if not, let's cancel this one. Let's cancel the Legislature. Let's cancel Congress."
The commissioner's comments came after the City of Miami canceled the popular Calle Ocho Festival and organizers nixed the popular events Ultra Music Festival and Winter Music Conference. Multiple commissioners at the meeting, including Rebeca Sosa, whose district includes Miami International Airport, sounded outright uninformed about the virus that could strike their constituents any day now. Sosa, for example, claimed doctors don't know yet if the disease is "airborne" but was swiftly corrected.
But Martinez shared outright disinformation yesterday: He compared COVID-19 to standard influenza and said that because the county doesn't cancel events during flu season, it might as well not cancel events for coronavirus. Also implying everyone is freaking out for no reason, he said coronavirus has scared more people than the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.
"I don't know if even Al-Qaeda was able to do what fear of this virus is able to do," he said.
Martinez recommended the county "keep things in perspective."
"We deal with the flu — 70,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. There was Zika that came, SARS — they're all from influenza A from what I've been reading," he said. "And I'm tired of listening to it and hearing about it. So let's just get a little bit more common sense and deal with things like we have been."
He added that canceling events "sends a bad signal to the people that want to come here."
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Commish @JoeMartinez4026 praises @MayorGimenez for not advocating the cancellation of large events over coronavirus. Said Miami canceling Calle Ocho "sends a bad signal to people who want to come here." Calls it "fear or something that may never come."— Doug Hanks (@doug_hanks) March 10, 2020
"I'm tired of hearing about it," said Martinez.— Danny Rivero (@TooMuchMe) March 10, 2020
Said if we cancel some events we should cancel all events. We shouldn't cancel any events, he said, because that "sends a bad sign" to rest of the country.
Of course, as local reporters pointed out yesterday, Martinez is completely underplaying the situation. As it stands, COVID-19 has a far higher death rate than the common flu, and public health officials note that the flu isn't going away either, so more people will die if COVID-19 also spreads. Numerous health officials have noted it's best to practice social distancing and cancel events before a viral community spread happens — so canceling major gatherings now could help ensure that medical facilities are not overwhelmed with new patients in the coming days. Massachusetts, for example, is under a state of emergency after more than 70 presumed-positive coronavirus patients likely contracted the disease at a single biotech conference in Boston.
Some county events, including an indoor job fair, will still go on as planned. Organizers of the Miami Open tennis tournament yesterday said they do not plan to cancel the tournament at Hard Rock Stadium despite the fact that officials have forced athletes in other countries to play without audiences present.
But if Miami-Dade officials want to stop the spread of coronavirus, they might want to start with themselves: County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, for example, spent a portion of yesterday's meeting licking his hands.