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Miami-Dade fee chairman, vaccinated for COVID-19, exams optimistic for the virus

The chairman of Miami-Dade’s county commission has tested positive for COVID-19 about four months after he said he was fully vaccinated for the virus — prompting a wave of planned tests for senior county leaders and raising questions about exposure at the Surfside command center.

Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz has been a frequent presence in Surfside, appearing beside Mayor Daniella Levine Cava at media events and behind closed doors with county administrators. He also presided over a commission meeting Thursday that was the first without protective plastic barriers between commission seats — an anti-COVID safeguard that went up last year and came down under Diaz’s tenure.

Rachel Johnson, communications director for Miami-Dade, said COVID-19 tests are planned at the Surfside command center Monday following the Diaz diagnosis. She said county elected officials and staff who attended Thursday’s commission meeting also will be tested.

That would include the top administrators in the Surfside response, including Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (who contracted COVID in November), Fire Chief Alan Cominsky and Police Director Freddy Ramirez.

The news gives Miami-Dade its most prominent known “breakthrough case” for COVID-19 vaccines — someone who apparently caught the virus after being fully vaccinated. While the odds are low of contracting the standard COVID-19 virus after vaccination, they aren’t zero. Researchers say new variants may be more effective at infecting vaccinated people.

Vaccinations also are credited with reducing the severity of COVID-19 for those who contract the virus after vaccination — with symptoms more likely to be mild than severe.

In a statement, the commission’s press office said Diaz and a top aide both tested positive for the virus and were experiencing flu-like symptoms Sunday. A spokesperson said Diaz’s test was on Sunday as well.

“Today Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz and his Chief of Staff, Isidro Lopez tested positive for COVID-19. Both started experiencing flu-like symptoms earlier today and will be isolating. Staff and others who have been in close contact with them will be getting tested between today and tomorrow,” the statement read. “The chairman and his chief of staff both had the COVID-19 vaccine and will be following the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.”

There have been reports of COVID-19 cases among search teams in Surfside, with members of rescue squads testing positive for the virus. Authorities described the cases as isolated.

A spokesperson for Diaz said the chairman, who is 60, received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in March.

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