Back in mid-March, Mayor Francis X. Suarez of Miami was only the second person in Miami-Dade County to test positive for COVID-19. Since then, he has been using his experience to inform decisions about how the city of Miami would respond to the pandemic and give people hope during the unprecedented time of unrest and anxiety as Miami-Dade County has had the leading number of confirmed cases in the state.
Suarez was originally exposed to the coronavirus when he attended a local event with a Brazilian government official, who later tested positive for the virus. “That same day, the Department of Health asked me to come in and get tested even though I was asymptomatic – and I was positive,” he recalls. “To me, it highlighted just how contagious the virus really is. Someone, who is asymptomatic, could pass it to a lot of people.” Suarez’s positive diagnosis set off a string of testing; around 40 other people in the administration were tested to ensure that no one else was affected. “Thankfully, our medical team took prophylactic steps immediately. I think that really saved my family and saved so many others from potentially getting it from me,” he adds.
Suarez received two consecutive negative test results after 18 days in self-isolation, and has since reunited with his family. He says that the opportunity to be with his family more has been rewarding, but he – just like everyone else who has felt the effects of the quarantine – has a desire to return to normalcy, for the sake of himself and his city.
In fact, Suarez remained asymptomatic throughout the entire quarantine period. His symptoms were no worse than a cold, and he occupied his time by working from isolation, including posting video journals of his experience to show viewers that his spirits were high. His experience was no doubt lonely and terrifying, but it gave him the opportunity to become the first person in Florida to donate plasma with the antibodies to potentially fight the virus and help a critically ill patient, with the help of OneBlood, one of the largest non-profit blood centers in the U.S.
While facing backlash for cancelling popular events like the Calle Ocho Music Festival and Ultra Music Festival, Suarez did his best to take early precautions for the sake of his city. “I was criticized by some local leaders who thought I was acting prematurely,” he explains. “They failed to close our beaches, which are not under my jurisdiction. We got national press coverage for the spring breakers on our beaches, which was not positive. People have died since who were at a music festival on our beaches, so that’s tragic, and it highlights the need for bold action.” Despite opposition, Miami was one of the first cities in the state to enact a curfew and a shelter-in-place order for its citizens. Given the gravity of this global pandemic, without his quick actions, the situation in Miami could’ve been much more dire. “We’re going to have to figure out how to get people safely back to work and how to make sure people feel safe when interacting with one another. That’s going to be our goal,” affirms Suarez, who was recently elected to serve as the second vice president of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), and then subsequently as the president in 2022, making him the third Latino mayor to serve as the president.
Writer: Lydee Striplin
Photographer & Videographer: Tolga Kavut
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to City of Miami (@cityofmiami - www.miamigov.com/home) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)