World news – COVID-19 silences the Miami scene ahead of the College Football Playoffs National Championships

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Cyclists will ride past Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Florida on Thursday, January 7, 2021 and will participate in the NCAA College Football Championship game on January 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky

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Fans pose with the College Football Playoff Championship on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Florida last week. AP – Lynne Sladky

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Football fans buy souvenirs on Sunday. AP – Marta Lavandier

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MIAMI – It’s 4:30 a.m. on Sunday afternoon and I take the empty row of chairs at the bar of Maxine’s Bistro and Bar. I’m one of only three people sitting in the restaurant. A couple is sitting about 20 feet away grabbing a late lunch.

A few waiters cavort, waiting for customers and calculating their last tips. Bartender Chris Vera works to refill a bottle of Triple Sec while the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears play in the background.

Maxines is located on Collins Avenue in the heart of South Beach, less than 20 miles from the location of the College Football Playoffs national championship game on Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in nearby Miami Gardens, Florida.

A handful of Ohio State and Alabama fans have walked through Maxines, says restaurant manager Luis Montenegro. However, it is by no means comparable to what they saw last year when Miami hosted Super Bowl LIV.

« We know it won’t get any bigger than Alabama and the state of Ohio, » says Montenegro, who has been with Maxine for almost 10 years. “They bring fans everywhere. But I can tell you, not even close to what I’ve seen before. If things were normal now, I wouldn’t be talking to you.

« I can tell you from the Thursday before the game that you already know it will be a madhouse (for the past few years). It was whole different. « 

I’m down here because my cousin is Ryan Day, the Buckeyes’ sophomore coach. A graduate of Manchester Central and former New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year, he played quarterback at the University of New Hampshire. Some Dartmouth College football fans may remember his name from his touchdown pass, which lasted 4 seconds on September 22, 2001 and gave the Wildcats a 42:38 win over the Big Green in Hanover.

I flew down from Boston on Friday and will be quarantined for 10 days after arriving at my apartment in Lebanon. And I won’t re-enter public space until I’ve tested negative for COVID-19.

The vibe of the championship game wasn’t felt across Miami due to COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, a total of over 1.4 million cases have been confirmed in the state of Florida, with 65,595 hospitalizations and 22,912 deaths.

Only 16,000 fans are allowed to enter a stadium with 65,326 spectators. The economic impact will also differ dramatically from that of last year’s Super Bowl, hosted by Miami, which was forecast to have an economic impact north of $ 500 million.

In Miami, a couple of banners with the team logos are hanging on light poles, and a couple of cars drive around with posters saying Dos Equis is the official beer partner of the College Football Playoffs. Not much else suggests the big game.

The pandemic closed Maxines for almost five months, as did many other restaurants in the area. Montenegro said he was forced to fire all of its staff during the time the restaurant was closed.

But lately the business has gotten stronger. The bistro posted its best month of earnings since the pandemic began in December, as a handful of tourists still flock south to avoid the cold weather and Florida has no travel restrictions.

A few more waiters and bartenders were due to work at Maxine’s on Monday, but Montenegro wasn’t expecting a crowd after the game as Miami facilities have to close by midnight. The kick-off wasn’t until 8 p.m.

« If I had to put a percent of 100 percent compared to a normal major event in Miami, I’d say I’ve seen 25% of what we normally see, » he said. « And I think I’m going upstairs. »

Not everyone has been so lucky with their winnings lately. Down the street from Maxines is Surf Style Miami, a tourist-oriented store that sells jewelry and Miami-themed t-shirts. Dada Fleu started working in the store in February just before the pandemic and went around folding shirts on Sunday.

The shop has two large rooms full of clothes, and Fleu said there would normally be more than 75 people in there at a time before or after their day at the beach. On Sunday, Fleu and I were two of the five people in the shop.

« It was really quiet. Tourists don’t come in anymore, » she tells me. « I didn’t see any more customers because of the game. I didn’t even know it was going on. Nobody is here anymore. ”

Back at Maxine, Montenegro has resumed its managerial duties and I have to speak to Vera, the bartender. He was fired when the restaurant first closed, rallied unemployment, and waited for the call to come back to work. He also had COVID-19 last month and was in quarantine for almost two weeks.

Vera is not an avid soccer fan, but was informed of the game a few days earlier as additional staff are being set up for the night of the game.

« I don’t care if Alabama or the state of Ohio wins, » he says. “But it would be nice if we could bring more people here because of the game. I could get a few more tips. “

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