The Magic City is known for its beautiful beaches, dazzling skyline and ever-changing restaurant scene. One thing it’s not known for is following the rules.
Early in the pandemic, South Beach made national news when videos circulated of hundreds of unmasked young people wandering the streets and partying during spring break.
After thousands of cases and scores of deaths in the county, have things changed?
To put this to the test, 11 Florida International University journalism students went to five locations on Sept. 4 in Miami and Miami Beach to count how many people were — or were not — wearing masks in public. The project was inspired by a similar survey by the Los Angeles Times.
Why do a count on the street?
To protect others from inhaling your potentially COVID-infected droplets, regardless if you have symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you wear a mask that completely covers your mouth and nose, fits snugly against the side of your face and is made up of two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric. Those with glasses should look for masks that fit closely over your nose or have a nose wire to limit fogging.
Besides the N95 mask, which officials say should only be used by healthcare workers, three-layer surgical masks and homemade cotton masks work well in reducing the transmission of respiratory droplets during regular speech. Neck fleeces, folded bandannas and knitted masks not so much, according to a recent Duke University study that tested 14 commonly available masks.
For months, health experts and South Florida leaders have asked the public to wear masks to help protect others from COVID-19.
Despite city and county laws that threaten hefty fines, the results showed the region is living up to its rules-challenged reputation. Fewer than 40% of the people counted wore their face coverings correctly, while more, about 44%, wore no mask at all.
Women were more likely to take precautions, but only slightly.
From 7 to 10 p.m., students counted more than 5,500 pedestrians in Wynwood, Bayside Marketplace, Calle Ocho, Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road. They only noted people walking down the street, not those eating in restaurants or driving.
They focused on four categories: mask correctly worn, mask worn with nose showing, mask worn as a chinstrap, and no mask. Though not scientific, the survey was meant to provide a snapshot of how people in the Miami area approach the mask-wearing rules.
Ocean Drive, perhaps predictably, was the most mask averse. Bayside was the most careful.
Though the fines for violating the rules vary among the cities of Miami and Miami Beach as well as Miami-Dade County, the requirements are pretty much the same: Facial coverings are required at all times in public. The exceptions, which are also similar, include eating and drinking, exercising, and those with medical conditions that preclude their use.
Below is a rundown of the locations and the students’ observations.
ARE PEOPLE WEARING MASKS IN SOUTH FLORIDA?
NW Second Avenue and 25th Street
At sunset, dozens of people lined up outside Miami Mojito Bar. Most wore their masks incorrectly, if at all, and physical distancing was not practiced.
Still, Miami police officer Ray Alvarez said most people were obeying the rules. He said people are fined for not wearing a mask, but only if they ignore a warning.
“A lot of people are responding to it,” he said.
On Sept. 4, though, about 43% of people in Wynwood were wearing their masks correctly. Another 13% wore them either as a chinstrap or not covering their noses. The remainder had no mask on at all.
Sitting on a small suitcase, a 54-year-old man entertained a group of five children by playing drums to the beat of a street musician. He was not wearing a mask.
David Bass, who said he is working to find a permanent home, said the mask rules are pointless.
“Masks are designed to stop bacteria, not the virus,” he said. “It is absolutely a–holish to demand homeless people to wear one. I have respiratory problems.”
SW Eighth Street and 16th Avenue
On a lively night on Calle Ocho’s walk of fame, streets teemed with cars and pedestrians.
About half were following the mask laws, though few people seemed to observe the six-foot distancing rules.
According to the data, 18% wore their masks incorrectly, and 35% were not wearing masks at all. Women were more likely to be following the rules than men.
“To each his own,” said Matthew Moro, 30, who was not wearing a mask. “If you feel like you need to wear it, then you need to wear it. If you feel like you don’t need to wear it, then you take the risk.”
401 Biscayne Blvd., downtown Miami
On a hot Friday night in downtown Miami, the streets were unusually empty. Restaurant crowds were sparse, while many shops were either closed or mostly bereft of customers.
Nearly 60% of people wore their masks correctly. Around 28% used them incorrectly, and about 15% had none at all. After 9 p.m., when Bayside Marketplace closed, pedestrian traffic dropped off sharply.
More women wore their masks correctly. More men were bare-faced.
Ocean Drive and Seventh Street
By percentage and raw numbers, Ocean Drive in Miami Beach had the highest rates of people wearing no masks. Of the 1,640 total people observed, more than 60% did not have a facial covering. Considerably more men ignored the mask rules than women. But overall only about 20% of pedestrians combined wore their masks correctly.
Lorena León, who lives in Miami Beach, said she wears a mask “simply by protocol.” She thinks that the “virus is not as overwhelming as the numbers show and we can no longer paralyze the economy out of fear.”
Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue
About 40% of people along the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall in Miami Beach had appropriate facial coverings last Friday evening, with about the same number ignoring the mask rule completely. A noticeable, but smaller percentage, about 15%, wore masks incorrectly, either with their noses showing or as a chinstrap. As in other locations, women were more likely to follow the rules.
Johanna Hodsson of Miami said tourists and visitors are less likely to follow the rules than residents.
“It is important to wear the mask,” she said, “just because it helps us stay protected.”