(Natural News) The city of Miami Beach shut down a popular beach park after crowds of people who were not wearing face masks packed the park over the weekend. On Monday, city officials ordered the closure of South Pointe Park just five days after it reopened under loosened coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.
Throughout Miami-Dade County, parks started reopening Wednesday, more than six weeks after Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered them closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more people in the county than anywhere else in Florida. Miami Beach joined the county, opening golf courses, city parks and marinas.
Gimenez opened parks and other green spaces under strict rules. One of these was the requirement for visitors to wear masks unless they were doing strenuous exercise. The county’s order was meant to serve as a “minimum standard” for cities and municipalities within Miami-Dade to follow. However, local governments could still impose more stringent standards, the order said.
Parkgoers refuse to wear face masks
According to Miami Beach police, park rangers issued about 8,880 verbal warnings to parkgoers for not wearing any sort of facial protection in the five days that the parks were reopened. After issuing just 1,551 face-mask warnings throughout the city during the first two days after parks were reopened, park rangers issued 5,259 warnings on Saturday and Sunday. (Related: Wearing masks to block the coronavirus is going to become the new normal.)
During those five days, park rangers also issued 511 social distancing warnings and asked 1,556 guests to leave park premises after they closed at 7:00 p.m., an hour earlier than the closing time at county parks.
City Manager Jimmy Morales notified the administration and its elected commissioners over the weekend that the city’s park rangers continued to report “serious compliance issues with respect to masks at certain facilities and rudeness towards staff, especially at South Pointe Park.”
On Monday, Morales decided to close South Pointe Park after first closing its parking lot the day before to limit large gatherings.
“We have had city staff in the park to encourage people to comply, but they were met with hostility and non-compliance,” he said. “We closed the parking lot on Sunday, but that made little difference. As such, the South Pointe Park will be closed until further notice. There is no way to effectively enforce social distancing when hundreds of individuals refuse to do so. The best way to protect our residents and first responders is to keep it closed until further notice.”
Despite the closing of South Pointe Park, Morales said that the reopening of green spaces had been successful elsewhere in the city.
Closing South Pointe was “the only option”
According to Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, closing the park was the “only option the manager has” to prevent unlawful gatherings at the park, as the administration would not ask the police to enforce social distancing laws.
The mayor said he noticed “understandable frustration” among residents. However, he said that those concerns cannot take the city “off this course” of easing itself out of the pandemic.
“The social distancing is serious, and it’s too early to disregard it,” Gelber said. “There is a lot of frustration but that can’t be the organizing principle of what we do.”
Commissioner Ricky Arriola, however, disagreed with the decision. He stated that Morales — who isn’t an elected official — did not consult with city commissioners before he made his decision. Arriola called the decision an “abuse of power,” while criticizing the city’s figures as “unreliable.”
Before the park was closed, Arriola said that residents had been organizing a protest of the city’s emergency powers. Morales, who proclaimed a state of emergency on March 17, currently wields unilateral decision-making powers during times of emergency.
“I am aware of protests being formed,” Arriola said. “What you’re seeing is an abuse of power, and this is why you can’t consolidate power.”
Despite this, on Friday, the commission unanimously voted to extend Morales’ emergency powers until May 14.