COVID vaccines for children ages 5 and up are still coming through the federal pharmacy program and are very limited in the Keys. CDC VIA UNSPLASH/Contributed

At the Dec. 8 Board of County Commissioners meeting, the emergency management department’s director, Shannon Weiner, said that only a limited number of COVID vaccines for children ages 5 and up are available in the Keys. But she had encouraging news about Omicron, the new COVID variant.

Also discussed: Key West Airport repairs and tourist congestion at two small Key Largo parks.

Bob Eadie of the Florida Department of Health for the county was ill, so Weiner gave his report in his absence. The Omicron variant of COVID, which has made national headlines, is now in 15 states across the U.S. Though Weiner said there is not a lot of info on Omicron yet, she said that individuals seem to not be getting seriously ill, “which is a good thing.”   

Weiner also announced that COVID vaccines for children ages 5 and up are “still coming through the federal pharmacy program…and (they are) very limited in the Keys.”

She said Eadie plans to conduct a survey with the school board about the demand for the children’s vaccine and then make a plan going forward.

Richard Strickland, director of Monroe County airports, gave an update on Key West International Airport improvements, which have a targeted completion date of October 2024. Some of the pricier repairs in this phase of the design, which is at 30 percent completion: a project to connect the U.S. Customs Building and Concourse A, with an estimated cost of $3 million; a glass curtain wall to withstand 200 mph winds, estimated to cost $3 million; terminal flooring upgrade to terrazzo at $750,000; and an aquarium for $400,000. 

One option to avoid the cost and maintenance of the aquarium is to provide a less-pricey fully virtual “Passenger Entry Bridge Experience” into the terminal. Strickland is also concerned about the higher cost of steel for future construction. Steel has gone up 40 percent in the U.S. since the start of the COVID pandemic.

But Strickland emphasized that none of the money for the new concourse, estimated to have a final cost of around $80 million, will come from Monroe County taxpayers. The money will all be provided by user fees, and grants from the FAA and FDOT. 

Next week, Strickland will receive updated cost estimates during a meeting with stakeholders.

Also discussed: solutions for continued tourist congestion at two small Key Largo parks within the Bay Harbor and Sunset Point subdivisions. The North Bay Drive park had no-parking signs with $200 fines installed up and down streets to lessen traffic.

A resident who lives in the area on Sunset Road said at the meeting that “we would tell (a driver) about the no-parking signs and she said, ‘I don’t care — go ahead and fine me.’”

A land-use attorney named Ty Harris, who said he was speaking for homeowners in the area, said the two parks were donated to the county in the late 1940s specifically to be used as roads to access the water, not as a park.

Harris suggested giving the land back to the county, otherwise known as a “replat,” since it was not being used only as a road, per the original donations’ specifications.

A handful of residents from the neighborhood then called or stood up to say, “I support the replat.”

County attorney Bob Shillinger disagreed that the land was not being used properly, and was reluctant to prevent the public from accessing the water. He said one solution, among others, was to hire a tow service for vehicles parked in front of the signs. 

“We will need to revisit this and discuss in another meeting,” said Commissioner Holly Raschein.

Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines;; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.