First this morning, I'll speak with Nebraska's Governor, Pete Ricketts;
Then, we'll turn to Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami, Florida.
But first, Governor Ricketts, welcome to Washington Post Live.
GOV. RICKETTS: Thank you very much for having me on.
MR. COSTA: Really appreciate you being here.
Let's begin with one of the big issues in your state: meat packing. Those areas have been hotspots in Nebraska. What are the biggest health challenges right now in that industry?
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, in general, that environment is a very difficult one to be able to do social distancing because the concentration of people and how close together they work. And so, what we have done, and working together with University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine is they have published what we call the "Meat Processing COVID-19 Playbook," which is a best practices playbook that focuses on what they should do to be able to take to be able to keep workers healthy and safe.
So, it addresses everything from putting up plastic--you know, plexiglass barriers between workstations to plastic in the lunchrooms to keep people from being close to each other when they're eating to addressing their air handling units, how they put on PPP, making sure everybody is wearing masks, that sort of thing.
And so, we work with all of our food processors here in the state [audio distortion] these best practices. And then, of course, I do a lot of outreach. We've got a lot of folks whose English is not their first language. So, we do twice-weekly press briefings in Spanish, as well as other languages.
We have videos to be able to help communicate the need for social distancing outside the workplace and taking those good hygiene practices into the home, as well.
MR. COSTA: That point that you just made, Governor, about people who don't have English as their first language, how are you making sure that minority communities and others in your state, like Native Americans, are getting the access to testing that they need?
GOV. RICKETTS: Yeah, so, one of the things that we have done is really expand testing, lately.
So, for example, over the last seven days or so, we've done 22,200 tests; versus the previous week where we've done 13,300 tests.
And we work with our local federally qualified health clinics because they're [audio distortion] communities to do testing. Sometimes these communities don't really trust government--and hey, I'm a Republican. I'm kind of on the board of not trusting government, too.
So, what we do is like, for example, OneWorld, which is one of our clinics in South Omaha, where there's a large Hispanic community, we work with them to be able to do testing so that people feel comfortable coming in, getting that testing done there, and really look to find ways to be able to expand that. Because, as I'm sure the data from the rest of country is showing is minority communities are being disproportionately impacted by the prevalence of the coronavirus.
MR. COSTA: You say, Governor, that you have some skepticism toward government. You are a conservative Republican. You've gotten some scrutiny, some criticism from state lawmakers in Nebraska about Test Nebraska, the $27 million no-bid contract.
Do you stand by that decision? Have you thought in any way about revising that contract?
GOV. RICKETTS: Yeah, no, 100 percent. One of the things we know we need to do is to be able to have testing here in the State of Nebraska. And we were working with the Silicon Slopes companies to be able to provide that. They had a--their consortium had access to the machines, to the reagents, all things that we're in short supply.
And in fact, we've been looking to be able to acquire things like reagents from companies directly. A lot of it can only come through the CDC and their IRR Program, and that was being limited to states like Nebraska.
So, we were thinking outside the box to find ways to be able to expand, and we've been able to do that here in Nebraska. So, I've been very pleased with how the program's been going.
We've set up the lab in partnership with one of our hospital systems. It's a CLIA-certified lab, and this is the way--one of the ways that we're actually being able to expand that testing I just described.
MR. COSTA: So, you're going to stick with Test Nebraska despite the criticism?
GOV. RICKETTS: Yeah, absolutely. It's one of the ways that we're begin able to roll out testing [audio distortion] Nebraska; it's not the only way. We are, you know, continuing to expand testing through our commercial labs and our relationships, there. Our Nebraska Public Health Lab has utilized a technique called "cooling samples" to be able to expand the number of testing that they can do.
And we are continuing to look for other ways to expand testing, but Test Nebraska is a big part of how we're rolling out additional testing across the state.
MR. COSTA: Do you feel like Test Nebraska is doing enough with its mobile testing sites to provide data to your state about where things are perhaps growing in terms of case numbers?
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, that's certainly one of the things we want to use Test Nebraska for, is to ask people to sign up for the program, and then we'll use those mobile testing sites to move around the state and look for places that may have increasing numbers of percent positives testing that way. So, that might be an early indicator we may have a growing hotspot, there. And then, what we do is we deploy resources, additional testing there, contact tracing, look to manage the hospital system, all that, make sure we can manage that, because that's really the key is, you know, making sure you get to those places early.
And then, of course, it's the typical way you manage a pandemic is you find the people who have been infected, you get them to quarantine and isolate, you go back and find their contacts, get them to monitor their symptoms or have them quarantine. And that way you can focus on the people who've been impacted by the virus and let everybody else go back to a more normal life.
MR. COSTA: I want to come back, Governor, to that point you made about the skepticism toward government. Because when you look at the meat packing industry, and let's go back to that for a moment, you are--you have guidelines in your states. You have encouragement in terms of what you're saying as Governor, but you've often resisted formal rules or executive orders.
So, how are you going to hold, for example, meat packing companies accountable for workplace conditions if they're not formal guidelines or executive orders?
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, we already have a whole regulatory scheme in place to manage workplaces; it's called OSHA. And so, that's a federal government role. And so, we don't have any regulatory role in the State of Nebraska.
So, what we've been doing is working to really communicate out and work with the food processors with regard to the best practices that we have established.
If you talk to the folks at UNMC, they'll tell you they've been very pleased with the progress we've made. Certainly more room for improvement as we go forward, but we have weekly calls with the processors to hit upon these best practices.
And they're not all involved just, you know, putting up plexiglass. It's also work practices with regard to, you know, attendance records--kind of penalties for not having good attendance and making sure those are suspended, making sure folks are being paid to stay at home if they're sick or they've got short-term disability. You know, really reducing incentives for workers to come in and be sick and then, therefore, spread the virus.
And so, my [audio distortion] approach just in general has been to take a lighter hand with the government, whether it's with the food processors. You mentioned at the beginning, you know, it was part of the panel that we didn't do a formal shelter in place order.
What we did is said, "Here's the guidelines. We want everybody to do a good job of managing and doing the right thing here in Nebraska." And that's what we've seen from Nebraskans is, by and large, they've been doing the right thing with regard to all the rules we put in place and the restrictions we put in place.
MR. COSTA: It's good to hear "by and large" in your view, that's the case, but are you preparing, Governors, for a possible surge, and would you be open to revising your decision on a stay at home order in the future?
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, I don't think there's a reason to do a stay at home order. We've done a great job of managing what we were supposed to do, which is about preserving the hospital system.
We've got 44 percent of our hospital beds available; 38 percent of our ICU beds available; and 78 percent of our ventilators available.
So, we've done what [audio distortion] experts told us over two months ago to do, which is to make sure we slow the spread of the virus so that we don't have the health care system being overwhelmed. And that has been our North Star, that has been our guiding principle.
And now, as we start to loosen restrictions, we're going to continue to do it a step at a time, do it slowly, do it cautiously, to make sure we preserve that health care system so that anybody who needs that hospital bed, that ICU bed, or that ventilator can get access to it when they need it.
So far, we've done that very successfully here in Nebraska. And that's what we're going to continue to do is focus on that as we start loosening restrictions over the course of the summer.
MR. COSTA: So, when it comes to restrictions, based on your answer right now, is it fair to say the metric you're looking at is hospital bed capacity, ICUs, versus increased number of cases and deaths; different metrics in terms of your decisionmaking?
GOV. RICKETTS: Yeah, absolutely. So, again, go back two months ago, nobody talked about cases, nobody talked about deaths. What they talked about was preserving our health care system. We built our whole plan around that.
And let's take some of the things [audio distortion]--you know, that's a variable that changes. As we do more, we're going to expect more cases. Your percent positive could change depending on who you're testing and where you're testing.
So, for example, early on, when we had limited testing capability, we tested people who came into the hospital. Guess what? They tended to test at a higher rate because they were higher risk, they were presenting with symptoms.
Well, now that we've expanded that to folks who are health care workers, first responders, food processors, also to people who are 65 or older, we're testing more people who are not necessarily--or who are symptomatic--maybe they're asymptomatic. And so, our percent positive rate is dropping. So, but we've also greatly expanded our cases. So, we are getting more cases testing positive. It seems kind of natural.
So, that's not--that variable changes. It's not a very good one to look at, but hospitals--people go to the hospital when they feel sick. It doesn't matter if they test positive or negative for coronavirus, if they feel like they need to go [audio distortion] what you're trying to do is find a variable you want to look at to make sure it's something that's not going to change. And that's what we--and really, this is what it's all about, is making sure we can provide that care.
Again, over two months ago, all our public health experts said, "Nobody's got immunity to this virus, you can't stop it from coming, but you can slow it down to make sure that that peak does not overwhelm your health care system. That's what we've done here in Nebraska, and that's what we're going to continue to do.
MR. COSTA: In terms of slowing down the virus on a medicine level, the University of Nebraska's Medical Center is holding clinical trials for remdesivir. What, specifically--can you share any insights about how remdesivir is being used in hospitals in Nebraska and what the state has learned?
GOV. RICKETTS: Yeah, we're--well, we're very proud of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. They were part of the first clinical trials in phase one. And they've actually got the first patients in the worldwide phase two trials for remdesivir. And we've been distributed remdesivir just like every other state [audio distortion] committee to distribute those.
We're working with all of our hospital systems to be able to do that. And we think that, based upon what we're seeing right now in the state, that we'll be able to treat anybody who, you know, has that more severe case with remdesivir and help them--and shorten the time that they're on that ventilator, for example, to be able to help them recovery faster.
MR. COSTA: What about hydroxychloroquine? The President has decided to take that drug. Is that being used extensively in Nebraska, as well?
GOV. RICKETTS: Hydroxychloroquine really is not being extensively used here in Nebraska. I don't--there may be people who are using it. I'm not saying that there aren't people who might not be using it, but we have not made that a push here just because it hasn't had the clinical trials that, say, remdesivir has.
And we really work closely with UNMC. They're some of the world-leading experts with regard to infectious diseases. So, we really try to focus on kind of the things that are proven or established with regards to the science to be able to, you know, promote that with regard [audio distortion].
MR. COSTA: Due to the President's decision to take hydroxychloroquine, I must ask: Are you taking any preventative measures yourself, such as hydroxychloroquine?
GOV. RICKETTS: No, I'm not taking any drugs like that. You know, I take my fish oil pills everyday like I usually do. I wear a mask if I go into a store to buy something or something like that.
But other than that, I just kind of--kind of my precautions are what we're asking all Nebraskans to do is, hey, work, but work in a socially distanced way. Don't take unnecessary trips outside the household. All those sort of things is really kind of what we're focused on, here.
I kind of just get up at the morning, drive in to work, go back home at night.
MR. COSTA: We have a question from one of our readers, Linda Dobesh [phonetic] from Nebraska. She says, "Cases are rising in various parts of the state, particularly Lincoln. Why are you refusing to allow county or city officials to authorize their own rules?"
GOV. RICKETTS: Right. So, what we do is we look at the database decisions--particularly the hospital system to be able to make those decisions on what we're doing with DHNs.
And in the City of Lincoln, for example, we've got tremendous capacity. In fact, over 80 percent of their ventilators are available. And while they've had a few more cases come into their hospital system, it really isn’t that many. I mean, you're talking about 20 or 30 people--actually, I think the actual case number count is 21 or 22 in the Lincoln hospital systems today. And given the capacity they've got, it's very, very little.
So, what we're trying to do is make sure that we're balancing out everything. We want to make sure that we're preserving that hospital system, but we also want to make sure that the restrictions we put in place are, you know, something that we can live with. Because at some point, again, our health professionals told this--over a couple of months ago, if you have too tight a restriction for too long, people will start disobeying those. And we really want this to be an orderly [audio distortion], not just have people start [unclear] at all.
MR. COSTA: We've also gotten a few questions from readers, Governor, about Medicaid expansion. It's been approved in Nebraska, but it's been delayed in terms of its implementation until later this year.
Are you rethinking the Medicaid expansion plan at all in Nebraska due to this crisis?
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, actually, our plans to expand Medicaid have not been delayed. We've put out a project plan for how we're going to roll this out. It's been published on our, you know, Department of Health and Human Services website for many months, now.
And we are working to make sure we have a really good experience when we roll this out. You know, remember, we're going to be adding on, you know, over 90,000 people additional that are really typically not people we serve, right? These are single, able-bodied adults versus usually the--you know, the moms or the children or the elderly people we served before.
They don't need pediatricians. So, we have to find new providers to take care of them. We have to develop a system for enrolling them. We have to hire people to be able to take care of them. So, it's a rather big project to be able to bring on, you know, another maybe third more people that you're going to have in your system. So, we've laid out a plan for doing that. We've been working with CMS to get [unclear]--
MR. COSTA: That doesn't start until October; correct?
GOV. RICKETTS: --but it's definitely one of the things that has also been delayed in Washington because of the coronavirus.
MR. COSTA: But would you ever consider moving forward the implementation of the expansion? You see all the people in Nebraska struggling economically.
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, the challenge is that we have to have CMS approval to be able to do that. So, if we would go back and resubmit our waiver or go back and try a different plan, we'd have to get their approval.
And you know, given the emergency, we may be able to get that at an accelerated process. But then, we'd have to go back and write all of our health--our software systems, as well.
And ultimately, what that would end up doing, if we try to change plans now, given that we're going to start taking applications August 1st, it would likely delay that date past August 1st. So, if we tried to change now, it would probably push that date back even further than August 1st to be able to start taking applications.
MR. COSTA: Just a couple minutes left here, Governor. When you look to Washington and Congress, they're negotiating the next round of stimulus. What does Nebraska need specifically, if anything?
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, I've actually been opposed to doing another round of stimulus where you've got--you're spending trillions and trillions of dollars. I think the federal government has already put out a package there. Our congressman, Dan Bacon, has suggested maybe a compromise position where you would allow the states to use the money that's already been distributed to fill budget holes.
But you know, here in the State of Nebraska, we've been very conservative with regard to how we've managed our budget. We came into this pandemic with a strong, you know, financial position. And we will manage this just like every American family has to: You know, we'll tighten our belts, we'll live within our means, we'll live within the budget. So, we'll be able to manage this.
I am concerned that adding trillions of dollars that our great-grandchildren are going to have to pay off is going to have huge, long-term impacts on our country. So, what I would encourage Congress to do is just say, "Hey, if you want to give states more flexibility, give states more flexibility to manage it, but don't add on trillions and trillions more debt that we already, you know, can't pay off."
MR. COSTA: Well, Governor, why not look for more money from Washington if you've already publicly said you may need to cut your own budget in Nebraska due to this pandemic?
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, that money doesn't just come for free, right? That money comes from us as taxpayers, ultimately. So, you can say, well, it's coming from Washington but it's still coming from Nebraska taxpayers who pay their federal taxes to be able to support Washington.
What we all are going to have to do is say, "Look, it's a new world." Our economy has taken a hit because of the pandemic. That means that households all across America are having to tighten their belts. They expect governments do the same thing.
So, we've got to figure out ways that we can deliver our services, do a better job of doing it, just like they do in the private sector, but reduce how we're spending money, as well, prioritize what we're going to spend on, and, that way, live within our means just like every American family does.
And frankly, that's one of the things that we've demonstrated here in Nebraska, is we've implemented all sorts of things that the private sector does to do a better job serving their customers, and we've been able to do that while controlling our budget. We've improved a tremendous number of our services; we've measured all those things so we can show you how we've done that; and we've done that while controlling our expenses.
So, that's how we came into this pandemic with such a strong financial position [audio distortion] the first place.
MR. COSTA: And just finally, Governor, when you talk about budget cuts, what specifically is on your radar?
GOV. RICKETTS: Well, I think one of the things that people think about sometimes when they think about budget cuts is, "Oh, you're going to slash that program or this program." Real budget control comes from overall lowering your expenses by doing the blocking and tackling every day to figure out how you can improve your systems, how you can reduce your headcount.
So, for example, you know, we, at the State of Nebraska, earlier this year had the lowest employment level--lowest number of people employed by my agencies since 1994 by actually looking at process improvement. We employ things like Lean Six Sigma to leverage better technology and better process. That's how you actually control expenses. It's not about going in and whacking programs that, you know, may be important. It's about finding ways to manage your costs which you do a better job providing services--improve level of service while you're controlling costs. And this is what the private sector does every day.
MR. COSTA: As a reporter, I hear that answer, Governor. And see a governor open to negotiation with the state legislature on this issue.
GOV. RICKETTS: [Laughs]--well, as you know, it is a negotiation with the legislature with regard to how all this works with regard to the budget. They control the purse strings, and so we certainly want to have a good relationship with the legislature as we decide upon what these budget issues are going to be.
MR. COSTA: Governor Ricketts, thank you for your time. We appreciate it.
GOV. RICKETTS: Hey, thank you very much, Bob. Thanks for having me on.
MR. COSTA: Thank you. And after a short break, I will be joined by Miami's Mayor, Francis Suarez. Stay tuned.
MR. COSTA: Mayor Suarez, welcome to Washington Post Live.
MAYOR SUAREZ: Thank you, Bob. It's a pleasure to be with you.
MR. COSTA: Mayor, you were one of the first leaders in the country to have COVID-19. How are you feeling, first of all; and how has that experience affected your decisionmaking as Mayor?
MAYOR SUAREZ: I feel well. It affected my decisionmaking tremendously, because I was completely asymptomatic when I found out that I was positive. And I found out that I was positive sort of--it was sort of a fluke.
I was in a council meeting. I was actually, that day, going to issue my emergency declaration, and it became public that a member of a Brazilian delegation that was here in Miami had tested positive. So, that person was in the room with me. We may have shaken hands; we may have spoken at a close proximity. And so, our medical professionals as well as our Fire Chief recommended that I self-quarantine, which I did. The Department of Health called me later that day and asked me to go and get tested even though I wasn't feeling any symptoms. And I was surprised to learn the following day that I was positive. And so, it was an incredibly arduous journey for me because it wasn't just something as a private citizen would have to go through with their family. I had to go through this journey completely publicly.
And obviously, immediately, the first thing I had to do was go public with it. Because of the number of the people that I come into contact, with we had to test over 50 people in my administration. Thankfully, they all tested positive, along with my wife and my family that also tested--I'm sorry, they all tested negative--along with my wife and my family that thankfully also tested negative. No one tested positive.
So, we were fortunate that it didn’t disrupt our operations, but it certainly informed my decisionmaking, because I was asymptomatic. I was lucky to not have severe symptoms throughout the process. But I used the process to journal and to give our residents some hope that, if you are infected with COVID-19, it's something that is survivable and that's why I did the daily journals.
MR. COSTA: What's the reality in South Florida, in Miami? You hear so much about Florida reopening; that's what we hear in Washington with Governor DeSantis. But Miami, what's your assessment of the reality of the virus there today?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Miami has the most number of cases in all of the state. And so, I actually commend the Governor for allowing different parts of the state to go at their own pace. He did not force Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties to open at the same time as the rest of the state.
And actually, Miami-Dade and Broward were the last counties to open. We actually decided to open a little later than our county, and we've done it with Miami Beach; we've done it with Miami Gardens; and Hialeah, which are the four largest municipalities within Dade County. And we've done that for a variety of reasons. The first is we wanted to obviously coordinate amongst each other. The second reason is, you know, the county gave us the rules for opening very late the week before. So, we wanted our residents to have an opportunity to digest them and to implement them.
And the third reason is we want to sort of see how the county rolled out and to see if there were any adjustments that we needed to make and if there were any problems with the rollout. We've done it carefully and cautiously.
MR. COSTA: You commended the Governor for letting you do your own thing in Miami, Mayor. But do you wish that the Governor and other parts of the state would move more slowly in their own reopening to let Miami and South Florida not just be isolated on their own?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Our biggest concern, frankly, is not so much the rest of the state as it is our airport. One of the things that I asked the President to do is to discontinue flights from COVID-19 hotspots.
Our airport, to give you some context, is an international city. We don't run it in the city, but it has 50 million passengers, which is twice the population of the State of Florida.
Right now, in its diminished capacity and it's supposedly running at, you know, 10 percent of its total capacity. We still have five million passengers going through there, which is almost double the size of Miami-Dade County.
So, the big concern is that we've implemented stay at home orders, we've implemented curfews. We've taken all kinds of disciplined approaches internally and the concern is that we could see an uptick from people that are coming in from other COVID-19 hotspots throughout the world.
MR. COSTA: Would you like to see a travel ban be expanded? How do you think this needs to be handled in the months ahead at Miami Airport?
MAYOR SUAREZ: So, we proposed--was that they limit or stop all travel from other COVID-19 hotspots, understanding that, for some places, we would be considered a COVID-19 hotspot for them.
So, you know, that was our proposal to the White House. Our understanding is that he--the President has been in discussions with the Governor and has considered discontinuing flights from Brazil. Puerto Rico made a similar request and the week that we made a request to the President, American Airlines voluntarily shut down a lot of flights from COVID-19 hotspots.
So, I think the message is resonating and we're hopeful that, you know, what amounts to our biggest city right now. I think the message is resonating and we're hopeful that, you know, what amounts to the biggest threat to our city right now can be--if not--if those flights are not discontinued, at least can be regulated to a greater extent, you know, temperature monitoring, you know, the airlines check passengers before, things of that nature.
Right now, we're seeing very little to no kind of enforcement.
MR. COSTA: We have a question from a Washington Post reader, Eldi Cruz [phonetic] from Florida.
She asks you, Mayor, which steps--which steps is the city taking to protect the elderly population, and do you fear for their safety?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Of course, the elderly the most vulnerable in our community. And so, what we're doing is we're making sure that they, first of all, are fed. We're making sure that they do not have to go to mass congregation meal sites, which is something that can expose them.
We are making sure that they have assistance and the ability to be able to communicate with our government in terms of the needs that they have on a day-to-day basis. So, we're doing everything that we can to protect them, understanding that they are certainly the most vulnerable population in our community. And we have a very high elderly population as a city.
MR. COSTA: Mayor, is that a lawnmower in the background in Miami?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Yes, that's exactly what it is. We're going to have to shut it down right now [unclear].
MR. COSTA: No, no, that's okay, but it does show that Miami at least is partially reopened. You have some businesses there, landscapers. How do you make sure that they all have the testing they need to be working, to be interacting?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Yeah, it's also part of the new reality where we're all working from home. So, even though you see this fancy background, it's actually a virtual background. I'm actually in my laundry closet.
So, what we do is we are now--we have very broad-based testing in Miami. We're probably the city in Florida that has the most testing sites.
And now, we are at a point where we are testing people who are asymptomatic, as well as those who are--have tested positive and want to retest in order to be able to go back to work safely. So, we have essentially broadened our testing parameters to essentially anybody that wants to get tested.
And frankly, we have the capacity to test many more people than actually, right now, unfortunately, are desirous of being tested. So, what we're urging people to do is to get tested. We're making it easy for them, ubiquitous. We actually have in-home testing, as well. So, people don't even have to leave their homes to be tested. So, we definitely urge our residents to get tested, you know, whether they feel symptomatic or not.
MR. COSTA: You mentioned Miami Beach. I love Joe's Seafood down there. I've been down there many times, great food. Is Miami Beach going to be open for this holiday weekend.
MAYOR SUAREZ: The beaches are not, and neither are the hotels. And that's a decision that our--my colleague, Mayor Dan Gelber, has made and I respect that and I actually agree with that decision.
One of the things that we see--and one of the reasons why we got together as cities in terms of this phase one opening, and made it a little different than Miami-Dade County is because we know that what we do impacts the other cities.
And we--and then, what happens is, as Mayor of Miami, I sort of take the heat for all the cities. If a city decides--like Miami Beach--to open its beaches and there's a flood of people at the beaches, it gets national news, and then I'm the one that gets the call.
So, my good friend, Mayor Gelber, was very nice and sympathetic to me and decided not to open the beaches and follow what I think is a sensible path.
We've seen in beaches throughout the U.S., for whatever reason, people just not respecting the rules, and it's very difficult to police and patrol. You just don't have the manpower to be able to patrol that amount of land mass where people are just not following the rules.
MR. COSTA: And in terms of enforcement, what's it like to be Miami's Mayor and talk to your Police Chief? Are you telling them to be tough on social distancing, to be a little hands-off? How do you balance that?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Well, the way we're balancing it is we got the rules very late--unfortunately, last week--which is part of the reason why we postpone our opening instead of from Monday, like the county, to Wednesday, which is today. And then, our restaurants are a week from today so that they can digest what is a 185-page manual of rules.
We're doing it with about a dozen or so ambassadors. We want to go out there and first educate the public. We don't want to be heavy-handed. We want to make sure that people are complying and that they understand the rules. And we feel that if the rules are articulated to them clearly and they understand them that they'll comply, because nobody wants to go backwards.
And, obviously, our criteria for advancement is based on data. And so, if the data does not indicate that we're going in the right direction, we'll either have to stop or potentially go in the opposite direction and reverse some of the openings that we've done. And that would be, you know, catastrophic, I think--more catastrophic, even, than we currently find ourselves in terms of an economic circumstance that we're in. So, we want to avoid that all costs.
Obviously, if our ambassadors see people that are flagrantly violating the rules, or if our residents call us and tell us that people are flagrantly violating the rules, we have the ability to escalate that up to our Code Compliance Department to potentially shut the business down or even our police department, if necessary.
MR. COSTA: I want to come back, Mayor, to that point you made about the Governor. You said you commended him for giving you space to make your own decisions.
But behind the scenes right now, are you under any pressure from the Governor, his allies in the business community, to change your timeline, or do you feel that you can really, in the next 6 to 12 months, make the decisions that you want to make for Miami?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Honestly, I don't. I have to say that the times that I've called him, first of all, he's been accessible, which is important.
Second of all, he's been transparent, with me at least, in terms of what he sees are strengths and weaknesses in this entire process and, you know, he's helping me be able to navigate the bureaucracy of the state, which can be, at times, cumbersome and sometimes bureaucratic and people may not want to make decisions because we rely on the Department of Health to make decisions about openings, because the criteria, the gate criteria that's been established is data-driven, and they are the holders of that data.
There have been moments where we've had issues with the data, which have been, you know, a concern. And there have been data dumps that I think make it difficult for us to interpret the data. And those are things that, you know, the Governor has been very clear about, as well, and has been very transparent about.
And it definitely makes thing a little more complex and difficult as decisionmakers. But in terms of supporting our decisions, when we open, how we open, we had total flexibility and hopefully we can continue along the path to a phase two, assuming that the data and the experts that we're consulting, the statisticians and epidemiologists agree that that's the next step that we should take.
MR. COSTA: How are you dealing, Mayor, with the influence of President Trump? Many people in Miami--it's a Republican area, in some respects, in some parts of it. You're a Republican, though it's a nonpartisan office.
The President is now taking hydroxychloroquine. Are you concerned about his decision at all and how it could affect the people in Florida?
MAYOR SUAREZ: You know, we don't get too caught up with a lot of that stuff. You know, a lot of it is obviously fodder for national debates and discussions.
But in Miami, we're on the ground. And on the ground, you're focused on making sure that your business community understands what the rules are, making sure that you're making decisions based on the science and the data and the experts that you're consulting, and making sure that everything is doing well in terms of policing our city and the things that we have to do on a day-to-day basis.
So, we don't get too caught up in that. Obviously, we understand that there--you know, we're not living in a bubble. We understand that there is a national political election. There's local congressional elections and all of that, to some extent, influences some of the rhetoric, but we try as much as we can to stay out of that and to be focused on making data-driven decisions.
MR. COSTA: Well, let's talking about something local. You just talked about policing, Mayor. What's your response to the case of Dr. Armen Henderson who, as you know, was cuffed recently, nearly arrested in Miami, a black doctor? It drew national headlines, but it's a Miami story.
MAYOR SUAREZ: It is. I've spoken multiple times with Dr. Henderson, and what he's doing is God's work. He's trying to make sure that the homeless in our community are tested, are getting medical care. We're trying to be as supportive as we can of his organization called The Dream Defenders.
In fact, I spoke to him just on Friday and helped place a couple dozen homeless in shelter in advance of what seemed like would be a tropical and--you know, tropical storm coming this weekend.
So, you know, we're doing everything we can to work with him. Our--the homeless in our community are--you know, we don't have some of the homeless issues that other cities across the country have; we have a little less than 800.
But in terms of the incident with him, I spoke to him, I expressed my regret over the incident. And the officer who--you know, who detained him essentially was reprimanded for making some mistakes in policy and procedure.
MR. COSTA: Let's get into this: You just mentioned the hurricane season that is approaching and it starts in a couple weeks, the hurricane season, and South Florida has seen some close calls, already.
You're dealing with a pandemic, you're in the middle of it, you're mayor of a major American city. Now, hurricane season coming along. What's your plan, your strategy, for dealing with hurricane season coinciding with the pandemic?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Yeah, it's much more challenging, obviously. We are accustomed to beginning the conversation of the beginning of hurricane season around this time and so our residents are sort of experts in dealing with that kind of natural disaster.
When you combine that with the pandemic, it just makes it that much more difficult. I mean, it's difficult enough to run the city and to try to reopen the city carefully without a looming hurricane season. And so, we are--you know, we're doing what we do during hurricane season but we're layering on top of that the additional rules and regulations that we've placed on our residents throughout this pandemic to make sure that, you know, for example, stocking up on canned foods and having the kinds of items that need to be stored during the hurricane, that we have the capacity in terms of the throughput in our supermarkets to be able to meet that demand.
MR. COSTA: Do you need more money from Washington?
MAYOR SUAREZ: We--I've been a proponent of the second stimulus, and I've also been a proponent of--and I think there has been some movement on modifying the first stimulus to allow cities to use those funds to pay for first responders.
I think it would be a tremendous tragedy if, at the end of our budget year, which is in September, we have to cut the salaries of those who have been on the frontline throughout this crisis.
And really, all our employees are frontline employees, because it's not only our police and our firemen; it's our general employees that support our police and fire; it's our sanitation workers who are exposed. So, our entire city workforce has met this challenge and it would be, you know, awful, if at the end of the year, we had to cut their salaries or furlough them. So, I do--I have led a bipartisan--a group of mayors throughout the country to advocate for the portion of the second stimulus bill that would help cities with their budget deficits. I do believe that that's something we should get federal funding for.
MR. COSTA: You said, Mayor, that you're getting ready in terms of food for hurricane season. But what about possible displacement of people in Miami due to the hurricane and having a pandemic at the same time, homelessness? How are you going to confront that?
MAYOR SUAREZ: I can't tell you, Bob, how enormous a challenge that is, and I'll tell you why.
When we had Hurricane Irma, which was the last major hurricane that we had in the city, we had evacuated a large portion, tens of thousands of people in Miami-Dade County, but we evacuated them to shelters, and in these shelters, they're congregating.
So, if mass congregation is the major concern and worry, you have--you know, you have two things that are interacting that don't really speak to each other. I've often said that the virus doesn't talk to business owners. It doesn't care about businesses, and the business owners don't necessarily interact--you know, a good business environment doesn't necessarily interact with a good virus screening, right?
And so, when you talk about hurricane prevention and hurricane preparedness and you're talking about the possibility of tens of thousands of people being in a--in some sort of a shelter. Now, you have the added issue that you have to distance those people within that shelter and that provides a never-before-seen challenge.
MR. COSTA: Just to wrap up here, Mayor, to go back to our talk at the beginning here about your own experience--you've been dealing with COVID-19 on a personal level as well as a professional level. We've seen pictures of people in Florida, Miami included, not wearing a mask in public.
What's your view on that? Should people be wearing a mask in public at all times, as someone who's dealt with this disease?
MAYOR SUAREZ: Right now, we don't have that as a requirement; we have that as a strong recommendation.
We do have, basically, in any facility--for example, today, we're reopening our parks and we are requiring the masks be worn in parks unless you're going exercising, of course, or unless you have a small child. The small child, obviously, doesn't have to wear the mask.
But we are requiring masks in basically every single establishment in the city, every single business, not only for the customers, but also for the employees. So, you know, the wearing of masks is another preventative measure in addition to the social distancing that could, you know, significantly reduce the chances of someone getting COVID-19. So, it's certainly a strong recommendation on our part.
MR. COSTA: Any change you would ever formalize that and make it an order?
MAYOR SUAREZ: It is possible, absolutely, depending on how people behave. A lot of this is behavior-driven. You know, we--I always say that there's two paths: There's the path of responsibility and the path of irresponsibility. And we're hoping that our citizens take the path of responsibility so that we can continue on a downward trajectory and meet the gating criteria for phase two.
But if they take the path of irresponsibility, we certainly are willing to make adjustments and even, unfortunately, have to reverse some of the things that we've done to get us here.
MR. COSTA: Mayor Suarez, that's all the time we have. But I'm glad to hear you're well, and best wishes in Miami.
MAYOR SUAREZ: Thank you, Bob.
MR. COSTA: Thank you.
And thank all of you for joining us here in Washington Post Live. This Leadership in Crisis series will continue later in the week and next week.
But we're going to have more interviews for our Path Forward series. I'm looking forward to that. That's the part of Washington Post Live that's focused on economic recovery.
And at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow on Thursday, I'll speak with White House economic advisor, the chief economic advisor, Larry Kudlow. He directs the National Economic Council. So, stay tuned for that tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
And following that conversation with Mr. Kudlow, we'll have Bridgewater Associates' founder and philanthropist, Ray Dalio. He'll talk with David Ignatius, the great Washington Post columnist and writer, also a friend.
For now, stay safe, stay well. I'm Bob Costa, and we'll see you soon.
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