A socially distant meeting in an oversized hotel ballroom on the morning of April 11 brought together about eight leaders in the Key West medical and business community.
The discussion topic?
A new and still-in-the-works Health and Economic Recovery Committee (HERC) that wants to draft a 30-, 60- and 90-day plan to start putting locals back to work.
The initial small group included Dr. Bruce Boros, owner of the Keys’ three Advanced Urgent Care centers; Jim Gilleran, owner of the 801 Bourbon Bar; Two Friends restaurant owner Danny Hughes; Kurt Lewin from First State Bank; County Commissioner Craig Cates; hotelier and developer Robert Spottswood Jr.; and Realtor Peter Batty Sr.
“No one is talking at all about letting tourists back in,” bar owner Gilleran emphasized. “That’s not even part of the discussion right now. But we do want to have a plan in place for when we can reopen Key West and Monroe County for the locals.”
To do that, the group wants to begin widespread, rapid-result serology testing to determine which individuals have already had the current coronavirus and therefore have produced antibodies to it, “giving them a high likelihood of immunity,” said Boros, a retired cardiologist, and medical director for the new committee.
“You’ve got to find out who your available workers are,” Boros told the spread-out masked group on Saturday morning.
He has made inquiries with a manufacturer about the potential cost of 15,000 serology tests for antibodies. The tests involve a single finger stick for a blood drop. Boros and the HERC members are also working together to pool resources and acquire an ID NOW testing machine from Abbott Labs.
“You’ll have positive results within five minutes and negative results in about 15 minutes, so we’ll know who has already had the virus and whether they have the antibodies for immunity,” Boros said, adding that any serology tests that come back positive would be followed up with a nasal swab for confirmation, “and that person would immediately be quarantined, as we’re doing now.”
Boros also would like to create a task force that would pay immune people to “check up” on quarantined people by knocking on their door three times a day and ensuring that they come to the door and are remaining isolated. But some committee members cautioned against trying to do too much too quickly.
“Let’s not try to take too big of a bite of this apple,” Hughes said. “This is our very first meeting.”
On a related note, during a press conference on April 11, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he has ordered the state Department of Health to acquire the same or similar serology tests that can determine whether or not a person has already had COVID-19.
“These are FDA-approved, but there are also a number of tests out there that don’t distinguish what type of coronavirus the person has had. We want the ones that specifically look at COVID-19,” DeSantis said. “They’ve been ordered, but they are manufactured in China, like everything else. Hopefully we can be changing that as a country soon. They will be delivered here as soon as possible.”
It’s been widely acknowledged that the serum tests are important so that the U.S. economy can open — sending employees who have already had COVID-19 and recovered, including those who experienced the illness asymptomatically, back into the workplace.