Francis Suarez was one of the first residents of Dade County, Fla., to test positive for the coronavirus. Like many of us, he was suddenly thrust into the uncertainties that this pandemic has brought: Will I get sick? Will I transfer the sickness to my family members? How will I continue working during this time? And how long will this last? Unlike the rest of us, though, Suarez is also the mayor of Miami.
Using his platform as an elected official, Suarez helped to spread awareness, information and optimism through daily video digital journaling that, despite his quarantine, connected him directly to his more than 25,000 Twitter followers. After 17 days and recovering from mild symptoms, Suarez emerged from quarantine as a symbol of hope, providing reassurance that a full, healthy life is possible after a positive test result.
Many people may be wondering what it’s like to test positive for COVID-19. Here is my first digital journal entry to shed some light on my experience. pic.twitter.com/RDpIH2sNI8— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) March 13, 2020
Miami was one of the first cities to declare a state of emergency for the pandemic, doing so on March 11. A day later, Suarez was tested and decided to take the precaution of self-quarantining immediately. On March 13, he posted his first video journal entry, addressing his constituents to confirm his positive test result and describe his mild symptoms.
For Suarez, Twitter provided a platform to ensure that while isolated physically from his city and its government, he was still able to help with Miami’s response to the health crisis, continue to connect with constituents, and shed some light on the confusing and rapidly changing situation as residents were panic buying toilet paper and other essentials while wondering what it meant to be under a stay-at-home order.
“We thought it would be a good idea to be transparent about this journey,” he told Governing. “Hopefully it would reduce anxieties and fears, and I think it has.” In addition to his health, the digital journals discussed the latest city updates about the crisis, and many of the videos have received hundreds of likes and retweets.
While Suarez’ test enabled him to avoid spreading COVID-19 to his family and other Miamians, he emphasizes the larger benefit of widespread testing. “Testing is important to know the real number and to see if the curves are slowing,” he explained, adding that tests also are important at the city, state and national level so health officials can have a better understanding of where resources should be allocated.
But for most individuals, testing isn’t likely to disrupt lives much more than the pandemic already has. “If you get tested there are only two things that can happen. You’ll either be positive or negative,” he said. “That’s it.” Most of those who test positive either are asymptomatic or, like Suarez, experience less-severe symptoms. “If you’re sick and you’re positive,” the mayor said, “they’re actually going to tell you to go home. It’s not like anything different happens.”
Suarez said he also quarantined himself to model proper social distancing and because an individual who gets negative test results could become infected from someone in the testing facility. “That’s why we are stressing that people stay home,” he said. “The only way to really get ahead of this is not to interact socially in the way that we are accustomed to.”
While social distancing isn’t easy, the increasingly common video- and remote-meeting technologies are making coping easier. “Now that people have understood that capability is pretty ubiquitous and with 5G coming into major cities,” he said, “you’re going to see more and more people working from home or realizing that they can interact without necessarily having to be in the same place. And that will change a lot of things.”
Suarez believes the pandemic also could bring permanent changes to how governments respond to emergencies. “Every time we have a traumatic event, as traumatic as it is and as difficult as it seems in the moment, it’s an incredibly invaluable learning tool that I think cities and governments can use to be better prepared for the next one.”
He also believes that Miami made the right decisions early on. “One of the things I’ve learned is taking bold, proactive steps can sometimes get criticism but, in the long run, usually you’re validated.” Miami began buying decontamination equipment and protective gear in the run-up to the Super Bowl, and on March 6, a week before the mayor began his quarantine, the city cancelled a popular upcoming music festival. “You have to keep focused on the objectives that you’re trying to accomplish,” Suarez said, and sometimes that means erring on the side of caution.
Having tested positive for COVID-19, there were only two ways Suarez could safely come out of quarantine. One option was to stay quarantined for seven days after being symptom-free and medicine-free for 72 hours, which would have stretched out his self-isolation. The other was to wait until he was symptom- and medicine-free for 24 hours and then take two COVID-19 tests, 24 hours apart, and have both come back negative. On March 30, in a final Twitter journal entry, he delivered the news that he had received his second set of negative results.
I have tested negative for a second consecutive time, meeting the strictest CDC guidelines that release me from quarantine! I‘m deeply grateful to everyone for your support through this journey. This is a small victory in our ongoing battle to beat COVID-19. #InThisTogether pic.twitter.com/CjhIEvDFni— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) March 30, 2020
In the end, Suarez wasn’t able to return to his family until more than two weeks after he was diagnosed with COVID-19. The mayor said his experience as mostly asymptomatic convinced him that thousands in the community may have it too and not know. Days after his quarantine ended, he became the first person in Florida to become a COVID-19 convalescent plasma donor. His donation was to be used to help a critically ill coronavirus patient in Florida.