PIXABAY/Contributed

Florida Keys lawmakers voted Tuesday evening to allow restaurants to resume their normal hours of operation and allow a COVID-related 11 p.m. curfew lapse.

The curfew had forced restaurants to close and retail alcohol sales at stores to end at midnight — 11 p.m. during the two-day lobster mini season in late July.

County Commissioners Michelle Coldiron, Craig Cates and David Rice voted to let the curfew lapse and allow restaurants to resume normal hours, while County Mayor Heather Carruther and Commissioner Sylvia Murphy wanted to continue the early closures, saying it’s too soon to relax any restrictions, particularly with schools resuming in-person classes for some students.

Carruthers initially proposed leaving the curfew in place until the Oct. 21 meeting, but later wanted to revisit the issue sooner.

“I feel we’ve got to let our businesses, our restaurants get back to normal,” Coldiron said, with Cates’ agreement. “Especially since we’re about to sit here at this budget hearing and tax these residents and business owners.”

Cates agreed.

“I urge you to please let these people operate their businesses,” Cates said. “Business is very slow, but every little bit helps.”

Rice acknowledged, “The truth is we just don’t know what’s going to happen,” but he advised the commission that they need to “be ready to pivot and change things quickly if the numbers or something changes.”

Carruthers said the Keys’ COVID numbers are on the decline, “But they’re going down because of the actions we’ve taken. I don’t believe now is the time to do this, and I’m not hearing from our public health officials that we should be doing this. Why take our foot off the gas now?”

When the commission ultimately voted 3 to 2 to allow normal hours, Murphy said, “Keep your fingers crossed, folks.”

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