The Weekly Newspapers wanted to know how people in our island communities envision the process of reopening of the Florida Keys to both locals and visitors. We reached out to some of the best & brightest residents, officials, medical and business minds with a simple question: When and how is the best way to reopen the Keys? We asked them for “specific ideas and short-ish answers.”
To see everyone’s response, visit keysweekly.com. In the meantime, here’s a sampling:
Dr. Bruce Boros, owner Advanced Urgent Care, Keyswide
“We’re not out of this, but we have to figure out how to harness and control it. I’d like to see us get through next week without a spike in new cases, but we’re looking very good now compared a month ago. If we can get through this next week, I think we can start implementing a plan to open. We need tourists here, no doubt. But that means we also need mass testing capabilities. If we open up to tourists and then get a spike of 30, 40 or 60 new cases in a week or two because we opened a week too soon and our hospitals get overwhelmed, people will go elsewhere.”
Joe Walsh, Restaurant owner, Key West
“People in this town have zero income. Something has to be done. An exponential explosion of cases hasn’t happened here, thank God. But if there’s a roadblock in place, and you can’t stay at any hotels if you fly in, then it seems we may be punishing people unfairly [by not opening for locals], although just local business isn’t going to sustain this economy. Some reasonable restrictions would make sense — wearing masks, spreading out restaurant tables and lowering capacities. It sounds to me like the answer is widespread testing, and if there are testing machines available for $38,000 apiece, then the cost of getting 10 of them down here is peanuts to what this town is losing every day.”
Chris Holland, owner Ibis Bay Beach Resort, Key West
“Safety first. Listen to Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, not to over-eager politicians. The conservative decisions made early in the Keys created a virtual safe haven compared to most of the country. Don’t risk losing that. Safety will differentiate us in the near reopening. Temperature check every visitor by car or plane. Temp check every employee at the time clock. Our guests appreciate knowing our site is so cautious.”
Danny Hughes, owner Two Friends Patio Restaurant, Key West
“The following are our recommendations, and do not include cruise ships. On April 9, the CDC extended the applicable “No Sail Order” for another 100 days (or until amended). Also not included are bars and nightclubs, as these were not included in the currently proposed ‘Phase 1 Recommendations.’
- Arrivals by air, sea, or auto need to fill out and sign a questionnaire asking: 1) Where they are arriving from; 2) Has anyone in their family or workplace been diagnosed with COVID-19, and; 3) Where they are staying, with proof of the reservation. This questionnaire will be presented to the first Keys official or employee encountered (i.e.; airport officer, ferry agent, hotel employee), and the visitor’s temperature will be taken with an infrared no-contact thermometer.
- Prior to accepting guests, all lodging businesses will present a written plan (with drawings if needed) to their city or county outlining how social distancing will be maintained (ie; curbside check-in, ingress/egress using elevators, outside stairs, etc.). Limits on occupancy are not as important as establishing and maintaining social distancing; plus, Monroe County could use the revenue in light of the loss of revenue from cruise ships in particular, and the COVID-19 pandemic in general.
- Similarly, prior to accepting patrons, all restaurants and attractions will submit a written plan to their city or county outlining how social distancing will be maintained (ie; No bar service, tables with 6-foot spacing, ingress/egress, restrooms, etc.). Unlike lodging with no predetermined limit on occupancy, restaurants and attractions will be limited to 50% of approved occupancy; and candidly, some restaurants and attractions may be limited to less than 50% since social distancing protocols would be impossible to maintain due to the business’s physical layout.”
Milos Davidovic, general manager Sheraton Suites, Key West
“I think we’re ready to open, at least for locals. There’s a lot of people going through really tough times. I think we have enough data to make a calculated risk to make the decision to move forward. I’m preparing my team for what’s to come next, for life after the coronavirus. We have to protect our people and our guests. And we need a sales pitch to let visitors know what we’re doing to protect them when they come.”
Demetrius “DR” Roach, owner Stanley Steemer & KWHS basketball coach
“I think we need to get locals back to work. I’m worried about my friends in Bahama Village, who were already living paycheck to paycheck even before this all started. They can’t afford this; they can’t. And businesses can’t afford this. But we also can’t afford to have to do this all over again because we opened to tourists a week too soon. That would be catastrophic.”
Greg Sullivan, regional director Waste Management, Key West
“The target is May 15. Open business to locals, then see how Dade and Broward are doing. Continue with face-covering.”
Chris Belland, CEO Historic Tours of America ,Key West
“As a condition of other businesses reopening, there must be a reopening of hotels.”
Greg Veliz, Key West City Manager
“The governor is going to hand down the ‘ability to open.’ The City of Key West is working with business groups to tailor our response to those orders based on the unique needs of Key West.”
Mark Rossi, owner, Rick’s/Durty Harry’s, Key West
“May 15, in time for Memorial Day weekend.”
Evalena Worthington, owner Schooner Wharf Bar, Key West
“I hope that when we see a decline of new cases in Monroe County, we could slowly start lifting restrictions perhaps in the same order they were put in place, so at least part of Key West’s workforce and our employees will have a chance to go back to work. Keep the roadblock up for now until we see a sharp decline of cases north of us … Open up bars and restaurants with requirements to keep a 6-foot distance between tables at first. Then ease those restrictions when more testing is available. Bars and restaurants would need to follow strict cleaning and sanitizing rules, which most already have in place.”
Michael Johnson, executive director Florida Sea Base, Islamorada
“Reopening the Keys is contingent on preparation and adherence to CDC guidelines, not necessarily a specific date. The Keys should reopen when we can follow and adhere to CDC guidelines, when Monroe County leadership has determined we can safely reopen and when Jason Koler gets a haircut and shaves (he’s looking pretty rough).”
Elizabeth Moscysnki, chair, Key Largo Chamber of Commerce
Business Recovery Task Force
“Our topic of conversation will be the following — Monroe County is the most affected by this shutdown in the entire state of Florida. Percentage wise, 41.6% of the private-sector workforce is the hospitality and leisure industry; there is no diversification of industry in Monroe County. Having this in mind, almost every sector of business relies on tourism including the residents and county government; how do you see us begin to methodically open our businesses to ensure everyone is following “Best Practices” with the focus on the “Health and Safety” of everyone.”
Judy Hull, executive director Islamorada Chamber of Commerce
“First, we need to do it right, which I believe means slowly and methodically with a phased-in approach using the governor’s three risk categories as our guide. We also need to weigh the possibility of a virus relapse by relying on scientific data. We are all in this together and we need to be wise, not necessarily fast.”
Michelle Coldiron, Monroe County Commissioner, Marathon
“Reopening the Florida Keys first to residents, and then to tourists, will take a strategic method backed by solid science brought to us by both state and county Departments of Health. The unwinding of restrictions should be based on COVID-19 numbers for Monroe County and the counties directly to our north, the number of patients hospitalized, and evidence of crushing the curve here locally or being on the flat side of the curve. I envision opening recreational and non-essential businesses first to locals. This would allow us to do two things: give businesses the time to ramp up and reopen while getting their employees back on the payroll, and allow us to monitor whether a soft reopening will result in a spike of new cases. The framework should obviously take into consideration the input of the county, municipalities and the governor’s executive orders.”
Dr. John O’Connor, Family physician, Marathon
“We should reopen when we get antibody testing available. And then only in increasing increments, slowly, over time, watching the number of new cases making sure our ‘curve’ does not start rising too soon rapidly.”
Frank Greenman, Retired attorney, Marathon
While I don’t trust fortune tellers and prophets, this prediction is easy because its a sure thing.
In the next two weeks, we will see the smaller cities’ hospitals be overwhelmed. In Macon, Huntsville, and Athens, in Jackson and Fort Smith, Grand Rapids and Sioux Falls, and the many smaller cities, the smaller hospitals and VA facilities will fail. Their facilities will be overrun, and their doctors and nurses unequipped to respond to the many very sick people seeking help. Those same doctors and nurses will see an increase in infections among themselves, while they increasingly have to decide, among the sick, who they will try to save and who they must let die. And there will be no rescue, no happy ending. The colossal failure of our government to prepare for this predictable catastrophe has exhausted our national supply reserves and the global demand ensures that these hospitals will not be able to receive the supplies they so desperately need. And Americans, by the thousands, will die, alone, in agony trying to breathe.
As warmer weather comes, there may be some respite, but when the rains come in September, the virus will return, with a vengeance, and still without a vaccine, thousands more will sicken and die.
The morons with the waving flags shouting for freedom and liberty, inviting the virus to feast on themselves and others will also sicken and die, but their invitation to the virus threatens us all. It is estimated that 7/8 of our population does not yet have the virus. Absent effective counter measures, the virus will feast on them. I can only pray that the newly spreading virus doesn’t come for my family, my parents, my children.
In November I will vote against the incompetent Republicans who aided and abetted this disaster… if I am still alive.
Karen Thurman, General manager Hyatt Resort, Marathon
“Everything we need is in place and ready to re-open. Our destination is fortunate to have great PR and media ready to roll out. Also fortunate, our infrastructure hasn’t been compromised. Once the healthcare system gives us the all clear and government says “go,” I think the industry will bounce back quickly. However, the longer this situation drags out, the harder bouncing back will be. People can’t hold out indefinitely.”
Peter Rosasco, Accountant, Marathon
“When the scientists and health care experts say it’s safe, we should reopen. Our emergency management and health care system is working well, we need to stay the course until it’s safe to reopen and then we need to do it wisely so we stay safe while we recover efficiently.”
Mark Senmartin, Business owner and councilman, Marathon
“The end of this closure needs to be phased back in. I think allowing residents — using the proper precautions and social distance — the use of the beaches and parks again with limited capacity would be reasonable (excluding the high-risk people). I don’t think it’s time for visitors to filter in yet. There’s no point in putting a date on it because the decision should be based on data, not a calendar.”
Daniel Samess, Executive Director Marathon Chamber of Commerce
“The ‘when’ part is the most difficult, since for us it’s predicated on our neighbors to the north, regarding COVID-19 cases, etc. That will affect and mostly determine when we open. As to ‘how,’ I think a phased opening similar to how we phased closures may make the most sense. We may see lodging be limited to 50% capacity, as well as food and beverage businesses, attractions, etc. This will help to maintain physical distancing, in addition to other safety measures that be required/suggested (face masks, sanitizing stations, etc.). While it may still be a while to get to ‘normal’ I look forward to safely welcoming back our visitors and guests, which means our businesses can get back up and running with residents getting back to work. We have no real playbook for this one, and it’s difficult to balance the huge need to get our economy back up and running with the health of our residents.
Bettye Chaplin, Resident, Marathon
“Let each individual business owner open as they please. Some will open, some will not. Place a sign on the front door with restrictions if there are any, for example if customers should wear a mask or restrictions on how many can center. Each business can post restrictions or conditions. Customers can decide whether to shop or not. Let each individual decide, let individuals choose. Open for business signs everywhere!”
Mary Stella, Media relations, Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key
“To paraphrase Dr. Anthony Fauci, we don’t decide when the pandemic crisis is over; the disease decides. So the short answer is that we reopen the Keys when it is safe to do so. We need more information and data from medical experts on what a rolling reopen could safely look like.”
Jo Ann Cook, Broker/Realtor, Marathon
“I hope we reopen soon enough so we all have a fighting chance to recover. As you know, many of us are still dealing with Hurricane Irma deficits.”
Sheldon Suga, General manager Hawks Cay Resort
When we reopen will be dictated by county and state government. We have to have strict protocols in place that provide safety for our employees, residents and visitors. For example, no more public buffets at the resort, instead those can be served items as opposed to people helping themselves. We need spacing for people who attend meetings and lots of sanitation stations. There is a lot of detail to think through — many of our employees use bus transportation and what does that look like, safety wise?
Ken Davis, vice mayor, Village of Islamorada
A soft opening to include social distancing in restaurants and bars for the first two weeks, followed by two weeks without social distancing but maintaining the checkpoint. We also need to lobby to the governor to cancel mini season for Monroe County as it will have a greater negative impact on our health and safety than any other county.
Elizabeth Jolin, captain, Bay and Reef Charter Boats, Islamorada
If the Corona virus can be eradicated with a dose of hope, frantic misinformation, frayed economic stimuli dollars, a pile of political grandstanding all bound by a November election — then our nation is on the right track. Unfortunately, this combination is not the panacea, and will never return the Florida Keys to “normal.” Jim Yong Kim has spent his career fighting HIV/Aids, cholera, and ebola and is one of those experts. He writes, “It’s Not Too Late to Go on Offense Against the Corona Virus” in the New Yorker, April 20, 2020. He makes the compelling argument that “hope” will not end a battle with Corona virus, rather a systematic, offensive, and aggressive five point plan: His five point plan includes: social distancing, contact tracing, testing, isolation and treatment. Implementing this plan will be expensive, inconvenient, and disruptive. And yet will bring a far greater return than a plan based in “hope.