Commissioner Udine on Opening Businesses: ‘I Think it’s Time’

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Michael Udine {courtesy}

By: Anne Geggis

Northwest Broward’s representative on the Broward County Commission is adding his voice to the growing chorus asking for the economic recovery from COVID-19 to begin with immediately opening some businesses that had been shuttered in the outbreak.

Commissioner Michael Udine Friday sent a letter to the county manager asking that Phase 1 of the recovery start immediately. Even though the county’s numbers of new cases do not meet the milestones experts recommend before taking this step, Udine cites Palm Beach County’s decision to re-open and Miami-Dade’s planned May 18 opening.

“I think it’s time,” said Udine, who represents Coral Springs, noting that Fort Lauderdale’s mayor is asking for the same. Udine’s Facebook post calling for the opening also had Margate Mayor Tommy Ruzzano agreeing with it.

Avoiding the infected is the only defense against the new virus. And the government decided to limit economic activity to essentials in an effort to limit transmission in mid-March. Now, almost two months since the shutdown of nonessential businesses, Udine said some of the restrictions have stopped making sense.

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“You have a homeowners association fitness facility that’s closed, but 23 people can be together on a bus,” he said. “What’s essential and nonessential should be replaced by what can be done safely and what’s not safe.”

Udine said he firmly believes the pause in economic activity was crucial to stopping the virus’ spread. But now, it’s become overly punitive to mom-and-pop businesses, like pet groomers, small jewelry stores, and dry cleaners for no good reason. The area is prepared for whatever comes next since hospitals have the capacity to handle it if some people do get sick, Udine said.

“There’s always going to be some level of risk. We just have to minimize as much as we can,” he said, citing the need to continue keeping at least six feet apart from nonhousehold members.

The Centers for Disease Control laid out criteria in levels of testing and new cases that communities should meet before re-opening the economy.  No states have met that criteria for ramped up testing for the disease and consistently lower numbers of infection.

But Georgia opened up for business, including bowling lanes and tattoo parlors two weeks ago. And most of Florida started Phase 1 last Monday. This week, hair salons and barbers can begin to take customers in most of the state. South Florida’s coronavirus outbreak has been bigger than most places, however, and no specific timetable has emerged for Broward County.

“People that are scared, people that have issues can stay home if that’s what they desire,” Udine said. “It’s time to reopen the county … and allow South Florida to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

The Florida Health Department’s latest numbers show there were 50 new Broward cases Friday, compared to 93 new cases Saturday. But five-day averages show COVID-19 is on a downward trajectory.

Udine said he would feel safe going to a restaurant with an outdoor dining area. The pandemic rules would limit seating to 25 percent of capacity. But he would not feel comfortable going to the gym — yet.

But opening up some is the common-sense thing to do, he said.

“You’re never going to effectively get rid of the virus,” he said. “These things have to be managed, like everything else in life.”

Udine also acknowledges that testing for the virus is not where it should be, yet.

“At some point, we’re going to get there,” he said. “I want testing to be as readily available as walking into a drugstore.”

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Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis
Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.

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