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Health News Florida

Covid Spring Break, Welcoming Vaccinated Guests, And A Look Inside A Hospital As Pandemic Began

Spring break with a curfew — that’s what this weekend has in store in Miami Beach.

Cheap flights, great weather, and the coronavirus restrictions still in place in many other parts of the country have driven thousands of people to the city. The city of Miami Beach responded to the large crowds with more police and an 8 p.m. curfew in the city’s entertainment district during weekends through the middle of next month.

Also on this week's program, we spoke with Florida International University epidemiologist Dr. Mary Jo Trepka as the Miami Heat and the South Beach Food and Wine Festival invite vaccinated people to attend their events. And the Jackson Health South doctor and nurse who took cellphone video for months as they battled COVID-19.

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Spring Break Playbook

Miami native Luther Campbell is no stranger to the party scene. As a DJ and founding member of 2 Live Crew, his music tested U.S. obscenity laws and he is a fierce defender of the First Amendment. Campbell is now a high school football coach, philanthropist and community activist. He has worked with community leaders to address the large crowds that have descended upon South Beach in spring breaks past and during Memorial Day weekends.

"The City of Miami Beach can't continue using the same playbook," Campbell said. "That playbook is basically: create a police state that people come from around the world to the hotels, spend a lot of money, don't put on any organized events, close down every every hotel venue that accommodate events and basically have hundreds of thousands of people walking up and down Ocean Drive."

Campbell would prefer the city create certain events to "draw the right type of people." The Miami Herald reported the city planned a $1 million festival schedule during spring break, but decided against going through with the subsidies because of the ongoing pandemic.

"If you do not have anything, [you] create a police state and allow these kids — whether they are young men and young girls or whatever — just walking around the street creating their own entertainment, you will have a chaotic situation," said Campbell. "That is what I explained to them three months ago when I had a meeting with the manager, the mayor and the police chief."

The city is planning an air and sea show for the next holiday — Memorial Day. But Campbell sees race playing a role in these choices.

"They do events for white people. They don't do it for black people. The Food and Wine Festival is not for black people. Memorial Day weekend is normally a black event," he said.

Campbell took to social media this week. In several posts on Twitter and Instagram, he urged spring breakers to "party peacefully," and suggested a staggered closing of bars and restaurants to avoid crowds gathering in the streets at last call.

The 8 p.m. curfew is in effect in the South Beach entertainment district Thursdays through Sundays until April 12.

Vaccinated Invitations

Sections 117 and 118 at the American Airlines Arena are good seats for a Miami Heat game. Beginning Thursday, the seats in those sections will be reserved only for those who have proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 for at least two weeks. Masks will still be required, but fans in these sections with their vaccine verified wristbands will only have to have one seat between them.

The Heat is just the latest to specifically welcome vaccinated fans.

The South Beach Food and Wine Festival will require people to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination when it begins in May.

And one Miami-based cruise ship company will set sail again with passengers — just not from South Florida. Royal Caribbean plans to begin cruising from the Bahamas in mid-June. Crew members and every adult passenger will have to be vaccinated before they get on board. Kids under 18 will have to test negative.

More events are welcoming vaccinated fans as the pandemic continues.

"I think it's actually a very good idea," said FIU epidemiologist Dr. Mary Jo Trepka. "I think as more and more people see other groups of people who have been vaccinated, who are doing well and having a lot of fun, I think that's going to help normalize the idea of getting vaccinated."

Vaccinations have continued expanding. Miami-Dade County announced last week that it would lower the age to 40 years old beginning March 29. On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis made the same decision regarding state rules. And the age will be lowered to 18 on April 5.

"We are getting more information now that's showing that even if you if you are vaccinated, it is possible to get an asymptomatic infection. But the likelihood [of] being very infectious is very small. That is, the viral load is much lower. So we have more and more information that the vaccines are also reducing infectiousness," Trepka said.

Through Thursday, almost 900,000 people in South Florida have completed their vaccination. More than two-thirds of those are 65 years old and older according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

"This idea of other people seeing people being vaccinated is a really good one. I'm hoping that this whole vaccination process will be normalized and we'll start to see the majority of our population getting vaccinated," said Trepka.

Inside the COVID Unit

This month last year, the coronavirus erupted across South Florida and disrupted life for everyone. Hospitals became ground zero for combating the virus, as healthcare workers fought everyday to keep COVID patients alive.

A new documentary by the Miami Herald gives viewers a behind the scenes look at how employees at Jackson South Medical Center dealt with the virus.

The series was led by visual journalist Reshma Kirpalani with the help of doctors and nurses working in the Jackson South COVID unit.

New episodes of "Inside the COVID Unit: Battling the Coronavirus Pandemic in Miami" will be released on Thursdays.

Dr. Andrew Pastewski and nurse Julio Valido shot video and shared it with the documentary. The video gives viewers an inside, intimate look during some of the harrowing early days and months of the virus.

"I just am so happy to work with these people," said Pastewski. "I felt that there was any chance that we could highlight or show the world what these people do. I thought it would be important."

Valido had similar motivations.

"This was definitely something that I never thought we would face. So I think it's good for people to be able to see what we went through here in the hospital and how we worked as a team to be able to get through this together," he said.

Much of the video in the documentary is take from staff cellphones — in the hallways, nursing stations, outside patient rooms as they say goodbye to loved ones over video chats because family couldn't visit in-person.

It also follows healthcare workers home.

"It was hard to sleep at night just thinking that I could be the one that that caused this outbreak in my house," said Valido. "It was very stressful, a lot of sleepless nights. You think of every possible scenario."
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