Meet @Covid_305, Miami's Self-Appointed Restaurant Inspector

Swan in the Design District.
Swan in the Design District. Photo by Morelli Brothers
This past weekend, City of Miami Police shut down three Miami restaurants for violating rules set down in May by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez.

Astra in Wynwood, Swan in the Design District, and El Secreto Bar and Grill in Little Havana were closed down, and images showing Miami Mayor Francis Suarez partying at Swan surfaced on television and online. (Astra and Swan have since reopened. El Secreto is licensed as a bar and therefore isn't allowed to open under Giménez's guidelines.)

Among the online venues spotlighting Suarez's social distancing faux pas: a newly minted Instagram account, @covid_305, which sprang up with the aim of exposing Miami businesses that aren't following coronavirus guidelines.

The account bills itself as broadcasting "Miami Dade COVID 19 call outs" and "[e]xposing businesses not following Coronavirus Guidelines here in Miami. DM us with photos/videos. Report business violations at (305)4-POLICE."

In less than a week, @covid_305 has attracted more than 10,000 followers while posting photos and videos of dozens of establishments filled with partiers.

In response to a request from New Times, the person or people behind the account agreed to an interview, on the condition that the conversation would take place over Instagram DM and that he would remain anonymous, identifying himself by the pseudonym "Dovic."

Dovic wrote that he set up the account to bring awareness to the fact that Florida is not safe from coronavirus. "Cases keep rising and everyone thinks it's party time," he wrote, predicting that Miami is "on the way to another lockdown and I don't want anyone to lose their jobs, businesses, or any loved ones in the process.

"My goal for this account is to bring awareness to the businesses not following guidelines," he wrote. "That we see what they are doing and what needs to be fixed."

Dovic, who says he's not in the hospitality industry, receives about 100 images each day, supplied by tipsters in the community. "This has restored my faith in my Miami community because it shows so many people are over it and want change to happen," he wrote.

The Instagrammer says he has no objection to restaurants opening up as long as they adhere to the county-mandated guidelines. He simply intends to hold people accountable.

"Many of my friends and family have lost their jobs the first time around. This next time around it may be me," he wrote. "More businesses will close. All for what? So you can get drunk at a club?"

Not everyone is happy with Dovic's self-appointed role as coronavirus inspector, however.

Will Thompson agrees that establishments should adhere to the county's guidelines, but he's not on board with shaming restaurants and bars into complying. The co-owner of Brickell's Better Days has been hosting cleaning and painting parties with staff while they await the go-ahead to open.

"We're doing our best to make something good come of this. We started buying food so out-of-work bartenders can come in and grab something," Thompson says.

Thompson adds even though his bar remains closed to the public, he got a message from @covid_315. "They sent an Instagram with eye emojis," he says. "It felt like a veiled threat. This isn't constructive."

Thompson similarly questions the choice to bring in the police to enforce the guidelines.

"It's extreme to have cops come and close down a little restaurant," he says. "Send code enforcement and have them come in, sit us down, and go over the violations. We're pretty understanding. This is all new to us. It would be helpful if everyone was helpful."

And instead of shaming a business on social media, Thompson asks whether it might be more productive to take the direct approach. "Contact the restaurant. Speak to the manager of the bar and let us know what you think we're in the wrong about. Maybe the guy was about to put his mask on. We're all human. Just ask a question."

The bar owner says that he welcomes any suggestions from customers. "At the end of the day, we're about hospitality. Let us know if you have a problem and we'll try to make it better."

Dovic, meanwhile, is comfortable with his mission: to inform the public.

"[With violators] not doing the right thing, people feel there isn't a pandemic going on," he told New Times.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss