COVID outbreak in City Hall: West Miami shut down offices after virus spreads in staff

Douglas Hanks
·3 min read

A COVID-19 outbreak forced West Miami to close its small City Hall on Wednesday, after some of the office staff tested positive for the virus.

“Some of us have tested positive for COVID-19,” City Manager Yolanda Aguilar said. “I’m one of them.”

In a village best known as Sen. Marco Rubio’s political launching pad, COVID has sidelined the elected leadership. Aguilar said the mayor and commissioners are home out of concern about possible exposure from city staff. “The elected officials are isolating,” she said.

The municipality of 8,000 notified residents Wednesday of the 12-day closure of the city building, meaning an end to in-person bill paying and permit filing. The building is set to reopen Dec. 14 after “deep cleaning and sanitizing,” according to the notice.

West Miami’s mini COVID outbreak — Aguilar and six employees in the finance and administration division tested positive, she said — is a sign of strain as Miami-Dade faces its third significant spike in coronavirus cases since the pandemic emergency began in March.

Hospitalizations for COVID are up 40% over the last two weeks, and coronavirus ambulance calls are back at levels not seen since Miami-Dade was coming off the summer surge in late August.

A city council meeting in doubt

There’s a council meeting scheduled for Dec. 9, and the city hopes to conduct it online. That promises to be problematic because Gov. Ron DeSantis in November ended his emergency waiver allowing local governments to meet virtually during the COVID-19 crisis, saying it was time for in-person quorums to return.

Aguilar said the city is waiting to hear back from municipal lawyers on what options are available for the meeting. She said that while seven of the 10 employees in administration have tested positive, other parts of the local government haven’t had an issue and continue functioning as usual.

“Our community center is up and running,” she said. “Our police department is up and running.”

‘We have to abide by... the governor’

Aguilar said she was the first member of the staff to test positive, and received her diagnosis on Saturday. She said she’s been home since. West Miami’s problems were hinted at Tuesday during a Miami-Dade Commission meeting, when the board’s acting chairwoman, former West Miami mayor Rebeca Sosa, warned of COVID problems in local governments.

“We are hearing from cities that they don’t know how they’re going to be able to make it because most of their employees are sick,” Sosa said. She’s been a top critic of DeSantis’ decision to force local governments to return to in-person meetings even as COVID cases were rising again in Miami-Dade and elsewhere.

“Many people are saying we can do this at home, and be safe?” she said. “We have to abide by the rules of the governor.”