By Raquel Garcia
Contradictions abound in the new normal reality this Cinco de Mayo. Brush fires have scorched over 1,700 acres in the Everglades yet signs of spring’s hopeful beauty persist. A Miami Beach park re-opens then closes again and cruise ships offer mixed signals on when and if their itineraries will ever resume. Accurate Covid-19 case numbers remain a bit elusive as the state relaxes restrictions. And pandemic headlines get trumped by the passing of a South Florida sports legend whose pristine integrity and meticulous leadership inspired generations of players and fans: on May 4 the world lost Miami Dolphins former head coach Donald Francis Shula to natural causes at the age of 90.
Thanks for the memories
Coach Shula is the winningest coach in NFL history (347). He is the man behind the only perfect season ever of any team when the Miami Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972, and a two time (of five appearances) Super Bowl champ. The Ohio native and Hall of Famer spent 26 of his total 33 coaching seasons with Miami, and never left. When local NBC news interviewed friend of the Shula family and retired sportscaster, Tony Segreto, he said, “Coach’s legacy went way beyond football. He met Mother Theresa, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and presidents.”
Dr. Paul George is resident historian at HistoryMiami Museum. He reflected on Coach Shula’s legacy in a phone interview.
“He was an absolute giant, he not only transformed the Dolphins and the face of football, he transformed the community. He built up our cohesiveness and our pride. One thing was his coaching prowess but as a human being he had a phenomenal faith (Coach went to church every morning) and he embraced Miami as much as we embraced him. He was so beloved and iconic they named the turnpike after him when he was alive and young (dedication of the Don Shula Expressway was August 3, 1983). I am consoled by the fact that his life was so well lived.”
When this writer met Coach Shula and his wife Mary Anne during Superbowl weekend in Atlanta 1994, they kindly accommodated a young awestruck fan as we posed for a photo together. And Coach good naturedly conceded to autographing my driver’s license as that was the closest thing to paper I had in my tiny purse at the gala event. Dr. George shared a similar story of The Don’s cherished affability when Coach posed for a photo with him and his sons at Joe’s Stone Crab in 2016.
Sports columnist Greg Cote spoke for me, and likely many other kids, who grew up in South Florida during the halcyon Dolphin days when he wrote in his Miami Herald tribute piece, “It was as if he helped raise me. Shula on a Dolphins sideline was one of the most reassuring constants in my entire life.”
Florida’s governor has relaxed restrictions state-wide and allowed some businesses to re-open. The exception are the three southeastern counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach where virus case numbers continue steadily; one day stabilizing, another day spiking.
As of press time, total state cases are at 37,439 with the second highest spike in deaths reported May 4 for Miami-Dade at 72 (deaths statewide are 1,471 and nationally 68,279). County wide cases are at 13,224, and 22,106 for the tri-county region. Reported discrepancies persist with senior living facility and medical examiner office fatalities inconsistent with those posted from the Florida Department of Health (FDOH). Bottlenecks on pending test results from private labs continue, and data has not been released by the FDOH on current Covid-19 related hospitalizations. (Source: Miami Herald).
The cruise industry finally conceded to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s stipulations to provide the nearly 80,000 crew marooned on over 100 ships off shore with private transportation home. Many of those international evacuations began recently. The Herald also reported that as cruise lines were announcing the resumption of embarkation dates for late summer, murmurings of possible bankruptcy were reported by Norwegian Cruise Lines. Before the novel coronavirus hit, The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association’s state of the industry report said 2018 was a 152 billion dollar global-economic-impact year.
Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade County have opened up parks with new rules and personnel on site to enforce physical distancing and the wearing of masks. At South Pointe Park there were over 2,000 documented violations of the new rules (in five days) so the Miami Beach city manager reclosed the park indefinitely. In Monroe County, parks and restaurants have opened up in the Keys but for locals only and with occupancy restrictions. Many southeast residents from Key West to Palm Beach remain skeptical about what they say may be a premature loosening of stay-at-home orders that could trigger a spike in cases, while others are thrilled for the opportunity to assuage their cabin fever.
Behind the numbers
A twenty year veteran ship physician, 56 year old Dr. Alex Guevara of the Philippines died aboard the Norwegian Gem on April 30. His body arrived at Port Miami after being denied disembarkation in the Bahamas. Although his nurse had Covid-19, and he was treating virus patients, NCL’s official statement was that he did not have the virus and cause of death was “cardio respiratory arrest” according to a story in Cruise Law News.
The Broward County Sheriff’s office announced the first dispatcher in Florida said to have died from Covid-19. Nikima Thompson was a 911 dispatcher for over 15 years. The 41 year old Miami native fought the virus valiantly for over a month before life support was removed on May 4. She leaves behind four children. Her mother is currently in critical condition fighting the disease.
South Florida Stories: reports and personal accounts from the Covid-19 new normal reality, seeks to regularly report (safely from home) exclusively for Caymanian Times about how the community is managing in the affected voice of personal experience presented as a historical documentary through local storytelling.