Months ago, when the COVID19 crisis was still new, Keys officials announced they would be replicating mainland orders in the Keys. As Miami-Dade took action to close parks or boat ramps or cancel fireworks, the Keys followed suit.
So, on July 6, when Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced restaurants dining rooms would close again amid soaring positive COVID19 rates, it set of a fresh shower of concerns in Monroe County; some feared the Keys would follow suit, others feared the islands wouldn’t.
Many residents are calling for the roadblock to be reinstated at the top of the Keys, turning away non-residents. That isn’t an option, right now, according to Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers.
“We can’t shut down the Keys easily,” Carruthers told the Keys Weekly. “That might be feasible if we had the social safety nets, but we can’t afford it. At this point, the roadblock isn’t going to be put back up. But the option isn’t entirely off the table.”
Carruthers said that she is waiting to see if Monroe County’s masking and social-distancing requirements will be effective. In the meantime, the county has ceased advertising the Keys as a tourist destination and adopted new messaging and ordinances to quell community spread of the virus.
Carruthers took to social media for a live press conference on July 7 to answer questions. Here’s a summary of the questions and answers.
Question: Can we put the roadblock up again?
Answer: We don’t have the support from the state to do that at this point. They turned their heads the last time we did it, but we don’t have their support to do it again. Right now, our health care system is responding adequately to the increase in COVID19 cases.
Q: Can we cancel lobster mini-season?
A: We have had a couple of meetings to address this and there are a couple of issues: it requires the governor’s order and FWC input to cancel mini-season. It’s a statewide event, but we are impacted more because, well, we have more lobster. The other problem is that if we did eliminate mini-season, it would move the start of the hunt back to August 6, which is the beginning of the commercial season.
Q: How will it affect the Keys if hospitals are at capacity on the mainland?
A: There has been a lot of discussion about how many beds there are to treat COVID19 patients in the Keys. What I am learning is that it’s not only about beds, but the staff to treat patients. We have been told that the state can send staff if needed. As part of each hospital’s charter, they need to have a “surge plan” in place such as eliminating elective surgeries. If we the spike in cases persists, we can then look at closing more things.
Q: Can a business ask a customer to put on a mask?
A: Yes. If they refuse, they can be asked to leave. If they refuse to leave, the person can be removed and charged with trespassing by local law enforcement.
Q: How many businesses have been cited for violating the mask ordinance?
A: In unincorporated Monroe County, there have been 79 complaints, four of which were found to be in non-compliance that were corrected on a follow up visit. A Key Largo fast food establishment will be the first business to receive a notice of violation under the ordinance. Visit the county website for details about numbers to call to report local violations.
Q: Where can we get free testing?
A: Three sites (Key West, Big Pine Key and Islamorada) have been announced in the Keys that are by appointment only. Due to demand, the first week of testing is already filled and appointments are being made for the future. To see a full list of testing sites, visit the county website.
Q: Will schools reopen in Monroe County?
A: I have kids, too, and I am hopeful they can go back to school in the fall. I don’t know the answer, but the Monroe County School District has a 50-person task force looking at that.
Q: When will the beaches and parks reopen?
A: They reopened on July 7.
Q: Can we limit lodging and vacation rentals again?
A: Yes, we will consider it if it becomes necessary. We will consider everything.
Q: [From a prospective tourist] When will it be safe to visit the Keys?
A: If guests follow our protocols — maintaining social distance, wearing a mask and washing their hands — it’s probably safe. My family is avoiding going out at night and trying to stay close to home. We are avoiding busy times and crowded areas. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the Keys without risk, such as kayaking in a family group.