A lot can happen in 411 days.
For example, during the April 21 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, emergency management director Shannon Weiner said that Monroe County has been in “Covid Operations” for 411 days. Weiner’s portion of the meeting was a public hearing to consider changes to the county’s mask ordinance.
Unless rescinded or extended by the board, the ordinance would sunset on June 1, 2021, subject to quarterly review.
The general consensus of the BOCC, with firm backing from health officer and administrator Bob Eadie of the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, was that masks should stay on through that sunset. But the board gave a nod to county staff to look at ways to meet again in public gatherings, such as Fourth of July events, with safe protocols.
“I agree we need to start opening up our events. I also agree we need to continue with our mask ordinance,” said Commissioner Craig Cates. “I can say that probably no family has probably been more affected than mine. So I know how difficult it is. But we still have to live our lives. We’ll have to continue on and be as safe as you possibly can. So I support moving forward with these events.”
Cates’ wife, Cheryl, died on Dec. 2, 2020, at Jackson Memorial Hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Cates and his daughter Crystal had tested positive for the virus as well.
Eadie said the latest research suggests that in areas where citizens are vigilant about wearing masks, incidents of transmission of COVID are remarkably lower.
Monroe County’s new cases have dipped a little lower: April had 14 new cases per day, while March had 16 cases a day, said Weiner.
“I’m saying that yes, I think we’re in the fourth quarter, but we’re in the fourth quarter — not at the end of the game. We need to be vigilant,” said Eadie. He pointed out huge spikes of COVID in Michigan as well as in many places in the world.
“And there’s a lot of travel in the Keys,” he said.
According to Weiner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that groups of people from the same household who have been fully vaccinated can gather.
“In Monroe County, we’ve had 31,830 people vaccinated, approximately 42 percent of our total population. We’re somewhere around 78 percent for the 65-and-over population,” said Weiner.
Mayor Michelle Coldiron suggested entertaining a discussion to approve the annual July 3rd public gathering on Big Pine Key, although no decision was made.
“We are apparently moving toward a day when we are going to lighten up restrictions,” said Commissioner David Rice. “One of the things that has occurred to me is there are some of these events like the Fourth of July fireworks that serve as a good experiment. If two weeks later you see a spike, that’s a pretty good signal that you need to back away.”
Eadie said that with the organizers of the recently completed 7 Mile Bridge Run, “we had discussions about how they could have that event and also be as safe as they possibly could. And they did that. They changed things around. … My point is, if you are in a small group and you know people have been vaccinated, it’s perfectly fine to start having that social interaction. The biggest concerns are when you bring in a big group of people, you increase the risk.”
The commissioners then directed County Attorney Bob Shillinger to look at unwinding restrictions with safety in mind for county facilities such as libraries, as well as outdoor events and parks.
“If we encounter issues, we can bring those back (to the BOCC) in May,” Shillinger said.