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How Miami Mayor Francis Suarez hopes to avoid an ‘apocalyptic’ scenario

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is a public official who has battled COVID-19 on a personal level. Recently out of quarantine, Suarez is now trying to lead his city through the coronavirus crisis. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss ramping up testing for the virus, trying to increase hospital capacity quickly and why he feels mortgage and rent relief are critical to avoiding an “apocalyptic” scenario.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to a public official who has personally battled the disease, and is now trying to lead his city during this crisis.

    I am joined by Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, recently out of a 19-day quarantine.

    Mayor Suarez, thank you very much for joining us. And we are very glad to see you recovered and come through this.

    But I want to start by asking you about Governor DeSantis' decision or announcement today that he is finally joining, what, 30 other governors around the country in ordering a statewide stay-at-home in Florida.

    Was this the right time, or did he wait too long?

  • Mayor Francis Suarez:

    Well, it definitely was time.

    We had ordered a stay-at-home order in the city of Miami days ago, if not weeks ago, and we were the first city in Dade County to order a stay-at-home, the first city to order a curfew. And so it was important and imperative that the governor do likewise.

    I think, when it's all said and done, we're going to look back and we're going to ask ourselves, did we do everything we could do to prevent this virus from spreading in our communities? And I think that has to be our guidepost right now.

    The other concern I have is our airport, which brings in 20 million people, and where 50 million people come through our city.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you urge the governor during this time since your city issued stay-at-home from today, have you been urging the governor to do this?

  • Mayor Francis Suarez:

    I have been in constant communication with the governor, and I let him know when we issued our stay-at-home order that we would welcome a statewide stay-at-home order as well.

    And I think, at the time, you know, there were 20 counties that didn't have any cases, and five counties that had five cases or less. But I think the issue is that we, again, have to do everything we can do, which is why we were the first city to cancel large events, to issue a stay-at-home order, to issue a curfew, because we have to do everything that we can to prevent the spread of this virus, including myself, who was the second person in Dade County that tested positive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure.

    Well, tell us about the situation in Miami City. What is it looking like there with regard to the number of cases and how are being handled, their medical situation?

  • Mayor Francis Suarez:

    We are sort of the epicenter of Florida.

    We have the most cases in the entire state. We are ramping up our ability to test. We just opened a testing site yesterday. We're testing several hundred people a day, which means most likely that our cases are going to continue to go up, and we don't believe we are anywhere near the apex.

    I find it hard to believe I was only the second person positive in the entire county. So there's probably hundreds, if not thousands of people that are going undiagnosed or that we don't know are positive. And so we need to get control of exactly how many people are positive.

    We have to do contact tracing to make sure that we can do, like we said, everything that we can to get — to flatten this curve.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you have the people, the personnel, the supplies, the equipment that you need to deal with what's going on in your city?

  • Mayor Francis Suarez:

    We were very fortunate. Our fire chief identified this threat very early on during the time it was in Wuhan, right around the time of the Super Bowl. We hosted the Super Bowl this year in early February.

    And he started purchasing personal protective equipment back then, spent millions of dollars, even without getting the authorization. And so we are well-stocked. I have been in constant communication with the hospital system, our public hospital system, which is the fourth largest in the country.

    I have been told or I am being told so far has sufficient beds, but as we have seen with Italy, as we have seen with Spain, as we have seen with New York, this run on hospital services can happen very, very quickly.

    And so we are trying to add capacity to our hospital system by having — as you were showing in some of the opening clips, by having portable beds available off-site in some of our parks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, at this point, tell us what effect it's having on the broader community, clearly, people staying at home, people in every occupation, job you can imagine. There's no income. How are you dealing with that?

  • Mayor Francis Suarez:

    That's an enormous concern, especially since it's April 1. It's the beginning to have the month.

    And so I am of the opinion. I have written the governor, and I will ask the president here in this show that we need to have mortgage and rent relief immediately. There needs to be a suspension, whether it's 60 days, 90 days, of mortgage and rent payments.

    People need to be able to have enough money to eat, and that's got to be the most important and essential thing that people use their money for. We in the city allocated $2 million, a million to feed our elderly and a million to feed those below the poverty level.

    But we're going to — if we don't take dramatic steps to make sure that we alleviate some of the more significant financial burdens in people's lives, my fear is it could get apocalyptic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Apocalyptic? You really mean that?

  • Mayor Francis Suarez:

    Yes, I mean, you have to understand that, in a city like Miami, we — after nine days, you know, without power, when there's a hurricane, it gets — it can get pretty apocalyptic.

    People get pretty desperate when they don't have some of the basics. And, for me, I think what's imperative is that residents get mortgage and rent relief immediately, so they can use the money they have, in conjunction with, of course, the unemployment benefits that they're get from the state and the federal government, to pay for the most basic necessities.

    That is going to be what people are going to be focusing on. I hope that we don't ever get to an apocalyptic-like scenario, obviously. And we are doing everything in the city to prevent that from happening.

    But that's what we have to be prepared for. And we have to prepare ourselves in terms of the economic impact that this is having on people's lives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami City, we certainly wish you the best with all of that. And we're so glad to see you doing better after going through the coronavirus.

    Thank you very much.

  • Mayor Francis Suarez:

    Thank you so much.

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