Increasing COVID-19 cases in the Keys have some stores and municipalities bringing back mask requirements. Some are issuing messages strongly encouraging their use, while others continue to operate normally since a local mask mandate was lifted in Monroe County.
Masks must be worn by staff and visitors frequenting city of Key West facilities. The decision was announced on Aug. 2 in what the city called “an abundance of caution” over the current COVID-19 surge in Florida and the Keys.
“We want to be sure that our staff and our citizens stay healthy,” City Manager Patti McLauchlin said in a statement. “We’ve come so far, and we want to stay strong and continue to recover.”
Lower Keys Medical Center had seven COVID-positive patients as of Aug. 2. Staff, health care providers and anyone entering the facility continue to be screened and are required to mask.
“Our safety precautions remain in place to protect our staff and community and safely provide care for our patients,” said LKMC spokeswoman Lynn Corbett-Winn.
Baptist Health South Florida reported 726 patients with COVID-19 in their system from Miami to the Keys on Aug. 2. At Mariners and Fishermen’s hospitals, eight patients with COVID-19 were being treated on Aug. 2. Both hospitals are requiring masks, regardless of vaccination status, when entering facilities.
While Islamorada budget workshops on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4 were open to in-person attendance, village officials strongly encouraged public participation via Zoom due to rising COVID cases. Several council members and staff members in attendance inside the Founders Park Community Center wore masks. It comes after there were several positive cases among those who attended a July 22 meeting of village council at the community center.
Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released updated guidelines with cases surging in states like Florida. The CDC said those who are fully vaccinated can participate in activities as they did before the pandemic. However, the CDC said, those in areas of high transmission — even those who’ve been vaccinated — should wear a mask when they’re inside public places.
A latest Florida Department of Health report, which goes out every Friday afternoon, shows just over 110,400 new cases in the past 10 weeks. From July 23 to July 29, Monroe County saw 249 new cases and a positivity rate of 16.2%
With a 70% vaccination rate, Monroe County remains one of the highest in terms of people vaccinated — only Miami-Dade County, with 78%, has a higher percentage of vaccinated people aged 12 and over. Broward County is equal with Monroe, with 70% of its population vaccinated, while Sumter County is at 69%.
“There are some who are changing their minds to some extent and getting vaccinated,” Bob Eadie, Monroe County’s top health officer, told the Keys Weekly recently. “That’s a good sign, but our high rate of vaccination, I think, is helping with our citizens here. They’re protected. All of the effort that everybody in the community went through to get vaccinated is paying off.”
A little more than 700 residents in the Keys received a vaccine between July 23 and July 29.
Cafe Moka in Tavernier closed Aug. 2 and 3 in order to get its team tested, with one employee testing positive for COVID.
“Sorry for the inconvenience, but the safety of our team and guests is our priority,” a sign posted on the door read. The cafe reopened to the public on Aug. 4.
Islamorada Chamber of Commerce executive director Judy Hull said she’s gathering some concerns from businesses. A busy two-day lobster mini-season had hotels at full capacity.
“They’re waiting to see if there are going to be any mandates. Everyone feels like it’s going to be the business’ decision if they go with the mask,” she said. “It will be on an individual business level, on an individual personal level.”
Publix employees are donning masks per a corporate requirement that took effect Aug. 2. Regardless of vaccination status, cashiers and other associates are wearing face coverings at all locations, including those in the Keys. The policy doesn’t affect shoppers.
“We encourage all to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19,” the company said in a statement.
Masks remain optional for patrons entering Winn-Dixie stores. Southeastern Grocers, the Jacksonville-based corporation that owns Winn-Dixie, told First Coast News that it encourages customers to wear masks in its stores.
Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last week that gives parents the choice to mask their children when they go to school. On the other side, the CDC says masks should be worn indoors by all individuals, ages 2 and over, who aren’t vaccinated. Classes are scheduled to begin next week — Aug. 12 — in Monroe County, and Superintendent Theresa Axford said the district is following recommendations of local, state and federal governments.
Eadie said kids under 12 are a lot more “at risk riding in an automobile rather than getting any kind of serious effects from being infected with COVID.”
“It hasn’t really changed with the Delta variant,” he said.
DeSantis has urged residents to get vaccinated.
“These vaccines are saving lives,” he said in a press conference in late July.
A number of testing and vaccine sites in Monroe County are available to residents. Visit monroe.floridahealth.gov.