By Raquel Garcia
It is an atypically steamy-hot bright Tuesday in Miami with temperatures running in the mid 90’s.
The mid-day local television news is broadcasting aerial shots of the South Florida coastline looking as crystal clear blue pristine as the revered beaches of the Caribbean that residents here forever long to visit. Dolphins are captured at play near the shores of Biscayne Bay and two rare sawfish sharks are also spotted swimming together. These stories of nature reclaiming her ground present a bittersweet irony but welcome respite from the daily gloom of global pandemic updates.
Today is April 14 and I’ve been mostly sequestered at home for nearly 21 days. The Florida Department of Health’s stated Covid-19 daily numbers are at 21,367 total cases with a death count of 524. Miami-Dade County leads with the highest number of cases at 7,712 confirmed. Neighboring Broward County is second at 3,243. Together they make up fifty percent of all tested and documented (by Centers for Disease Control definition) individual Florida cases. The global numbers are currently almost two million, with the United States leading in the highest numbers of novel coronavirus cases worldwide; just shy of 600,000.
One of the real people behind those daunting statistics was reported about in the morning’s Miami Herald. Danielle DiCenso is a 33-year-old ICU nurse at Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, and a wife and mother with no known underlying conditions who apparently succumbed to the virus yesterday. She was said to have run a fever for the past few days but her test results were “inconclusive.” Husband David was quoted as saying “she looked peaceful…like she just went in her sleep.”
Week Three in “safer at home” South Florida community quarantine decreed to help “flatten the curve” of the novel coronavirus global pandemic follows a Holy Week stateside that saw the highest number of reported casualties to date rising ominously amidst prognostications of worse to come.
This portentous moment in history is hard to deny as it happens in stark contrast with the most sacred spring-awakening holidays of the three largest world religions: Easter, Passover, and Ramadan. Recent earthquakes in the Midwest and tornadoes slicing through the South magnify the natural disaster headlines like deadly exclamation points to a planetary crisis exposing man’s requisite humility before nature.
Politicians have begun planning their best-laid-plans to end quarantine and open society back up for business while Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees tells reporters social distancing measures should remain the status quo until a vaccination is discovered.
Next week’s anticipated Earth Day (April 22) events are of course off other than nature’s own spontaneous healing celebrations that we humans are not privy to. Gaia, or Earth Mother, does appear to have thundered us away indoors with our sterile technology, intimate family company, and one’s own internal cultivated resilience being the only assets available to overcome this phase of the new, new, normal, A.C. (After Covid).
I am immeasurably grateful for the company of my two dogs and a cozy one bedroom apartment equipped with so many wonderful books, my heretofore treasured solitude, the discipline of meditation, a functional television set, internet access, art supplies, and enough food and essentials to pass the hours away here as the planet (mostly) pauses in unison.
These comforts of societal privilege help to assuage the inevitable moments of panic I must breathe through from time to time. The lapses of reason when my lesser angels create running scenarios in the mind like a flickering newsreel of impending doom and destruction forecasts for an apocalyptic tomorrow.
Many saw the clandestine videos from early February of Chinese governmental enforcers dragging Wuhan citizens suspected of being infected by the virus from their homes. Then the entire boot of Italy subsequently locked down with 60 million souls sequestered…yet still singing and clapping from their balconies above the ancient streets. It was inevitable that America would soon learn her role in this growing global pandemic drama.
So, the novel coronavirus’ protein molecules secretly stowed away on their human hosts from abroad and eventually bounced over to U.S. shores, spreading quietly in South Florida and beyond. New York erupted into the national epicenter with a disquieting nod to the Spanish Flu of 1918 demonstrated by field hospitals once again occupying Central Park. I did my feeble best to prepare.
The greatest feat was convincing my stubborn elderly parents to stay in their suburban western Miami-Dade County home, and they somehow allowing me to arrange to pick up three months of their prescribed medications and enough provisions to get through for now; hurricane style with a doomsday twist.
Back in my neighborhood in the city of Miami proper, our mayor became the first South Florida public figure to test positive for the virus after hosting Brazilian diplomats at City Hall (he has since recovered well and donated his plasma toward treatment efforts). The additional good result of Francis Suarez announcing his illness was it brought the new reality home to our communal doorstep. It seems to have also guided the prescient decisions of elected local leaders to begin unprecedented shut-downs of upcoming iconic signature events as announced via a press conference on March 6.
Cancelled: The Ultra Music Festival was to be back at Bayside Park this March 20 after a disastrous relocation to Virginia Key last year and roughly 50,000 revelers were expected daily for the highly-hyped three-day electronic music dance-a-thon. The international Calle Ocho street party hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Miami was set for Sunday March 15 when over 100,000 attendees celebrate Cuban culture in an annual spring tradition since 1978.
Dismissing the burgeoning spring break throngs taking over Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale became an unwieldy clunkier affair but was accomplished albeit piece meal by more-or-less the end of March. First with the closing of streets on Ocean Drive and Las Olas Boulevard, respectively, then hotels and restaurants in both counties were shuttered. Schools closed around the same time. Checkpoints opened into the Keys where only residents and workers got a pass.
The city-wide 10pm to 5am nightly curfew for Miami began March 28, about when residents were also requested to stay home unless working at an essential business or running essential errands. As of last week (April 8), anybody out in public is now required to don a face mask of some sort. It is the only way one has access to witness the new dystopian reality happening at the neighborhood grocery store or pharmacy.
The first resident to die from Covid-19 in Miami-Dade County was a fit 40-year-old man, Israel Carreras, who had attended the Winter Party Festival in Miami Beach before city officials recanted their early March declaration that the city was still “open for business.” He passed away two weeks after the event, on March 26.
The cruise ship chaos at Port Everglades and Port of Miami continues although much more subdued from the harbinger vessel Diamond Princess experience after departing Japan that soon forecast ill tidings ahead for the industry with infections run amuck on board and a litany of port arrival denials.
At one point around mid-March there were 15 cruise ships circling the coastal waters. They were allowed to venture into port only to replenish fuel and supplies as passengers and crew waited anxiously for disembarkation clearance while some got sicker and sicker.
The passengers aboard (including dozens of Floridians) along with the sick and the dead would mostly, eventually, be granted clearance to disembark for area hospitals or to be transported privately to their home states. However, some crew remain marooned onboard these now largely abandoned and defunct anchored luxury liners.
The clearance would come too late for the Maa family as their 71-year-old patriarch, Wilson Maa, traveling on the Coral Princess passed away on Sunday April 5. He was told by personnel that there were no local taxis nor hospital beds available to move him. It would become tragically clear later that both accounts were wrong.
As humanity approaches the end of these first four months since the novel coronavirus first announced itself following the--perhaps bygone era--of worldwide celebrations heralding a new decade, much has gone wrong. Yet spring persists ahead optimistically in the flowering garden blooms and in the innumerable stories of one person helping another, so much has gone right.
The doctors and nurses and paramedics and police officers and pharmacists and grocery store check-out clerks and journalists and others who are out there on the front lines braving this invisible and potentially fatal contagion while working intrepidly in daily service to help their fellow man heal and stay safe and healthy and well-fed and informed, regenerates the spirit of kindness, love, and self-sacrifice, that color every soul.
South Florida Stories: reports and personal accounts from the Covid-19 new normal reality, seeks to regularly report (safely from home) and exclusively for Caymanian Times about how the community is managing in the affected voice of personal experience presented as a historical documentary account through local storytelling.
Raquel Garcia received her Master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Florida. She is an Edward R. Murrow Radio and Television News Director Award recipient and has been a community beat reporter for years and served as an NPR, PBS, and print media journalist, producer, and editor.