Miami-Dade County official tests positive for COVID-19, raising concern about Surfside site

Jose "Pepe" Diaz has been a regular presence on the site of a building collapse.

July 12, 2021, 12:00 PM

Jose "Pepe" Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, has tested positive for COVID-19, his office announced in a statement Sunday night.

Diaz's chief of staff, Isidoro Lopez, also tested positive for the virus.

"Both started experiencing flu-like symptoms earlier today and will be isolating," the statement read. "Staff and others who have been in close contact with them will be getting tested between today and tomorrow."

The two men have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the statement.

Although the chances of contracting the novel coronavirus after being fully vaccinated are very rare, so-called breakthrough cases are still possible. Health officials and experts alike have warned that new, more contagious variants of the virus may be more effective at evading vaccines.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz speaks during a press conference after 12-storey Champlain Tower partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla, June 24, 2021.
Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Diaz, 60, has been among the officials on the site of a condominium collapse in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Since the deadly disaster occurred before dawn on June 24, Diaz has been seen regularly attending press briefings and closed-door meetings. The news of his infection raises concern about a potential outbreak among those who have been on the site.

For weeks, hundreds of first responders from various search and rescue teams across Florida, the United States and even other countries have been combing through the vast wreckage in Surfside, pulling out bodies and belongings from the pancaked layers of rubble. During a press briefing on July 2, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky revealed that at least six workers have tested positive for COVID-19. The workers were members of the same task force but were no longer on the site. Investigators were conducting contact tracing and testing of all other workers, according to Cominsky.

It was unclear whether the infected workers were vaccinated or if anyone had been placed in quarantine.

Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the rubble of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South building, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla.
Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

The search for bodies is ongoing, as 22 people remain listed as missing. At least 94 people have been confirmed dead, according to officials.

Florida, home to some 21.5 million people, has reported more than 2.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 38,000 deaths from the disease. More than 43% of the Sunshine State's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

On Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported an increase in COVID-19 cases and a higher positive test rate over the past week. The number of newly confirmed cases rose by about 8,000 compared with the week prior, for a total of 23,747 new cases. Meanwhile, the rate of positive COVID-19 tests statewide was 7.8%, compared with 5.2% the week before.