There is no doubt that COVID-19 is the most serious medical emergency we have faced in our lifetime, rapidly spreading and causing countless deaths. While science is divided as to the effectiveness of any stop-gap measures, short of total isolation, as shown effective in New Zealand and right here in Monroe County, nothing has thwarted the spread of the virus.

Logic, however, has been ignored, especially in the City of Key West. The biggest spikes we’ve experienced in the Conch Republic occurred in July and November. The July spike occurred while our bars were totally shut down and restaurants were operating at the skeletal capacity of 25% indoor dining.

Yes, Madame Mayor, the virus is community-acquired at this point, but not exclusively in those businesses that serve food and drink to locals and tourists.

The same 2,000 students from one of our universities that surprised us on Halloween weekend, definitely visited our landmarks on Duval Street in the evenings and also bought “supplies” at Publix, Fausto’s and Winn Dixie during the day. Has anyone suggested that our big box stores and grocers be closed every third hour for a “sanitizing” break? Armed with antiviral spray misters that cost about $100, we could sanitize the merchandise on the shelves that have been touched and examined and put back by countless hands.

Next time you buy an avocado, think about who has already checked its firmness. But that would cost money and be inconvenient, so let’s just shut the bars!

Those same students gassed up at Circle K, Citgo, and Dion’s. Has anyone seen any gas station employee wipe down the pump handles or credit card touch screens after repeated uses? Why not install a dispenser with antiviral wipes on each pump so that individually we can disinfect these disease carriers before we are forced to touch them? Or perhaps these establishments should hire personnel to pump our gas until the crisis is abated. But that would be difficult and costly, so let’s regulate barstools.

And speaking of touch screens, I’ve watched every weekend warrior in their rented mustang convertible spend enough time at our parking meters to cough, sneeze, swear at or otherwise infect the screen, so that it becomes a petri dish for COVID. How about suspending metered parking for all residents with stickers so we are safer? Even now, although I’ve bought multiple stickers, I take my chances on a ticket, rather than expose myself to what may be living on that screen. But again, this would be costly and the city is already feeling the COVID money squeeze, so let’s just cut restaurant hours!

Certainly, people visit our island to fish, dive and enjoy our beaches. They enjoy sunset at Mallory Square or the Southernmost Point. It’s all a waiting game until the festivities start.

There are better waters to fish in nearby; divers have countless options for cleaner, more vibrant reefs and almost everywhere has better beaches than ours of imported sand, rock and E. coli.

No, they come here because it is Key West! The name carries with it the history of pirates, treasure hunters, drug runners, the debauchery of Hemingway, the music of Jimmy Buffett and the freedom to be who you want to be. The 12 hours a day of live music on Duval, a dog with sunglasses, the party! Yes, people come to Key West to escape reality. 

On my first visit to Key West in 1986 we fished all day, as we had throughout the Caribbean and Central America, and it was a good trip — nothing compared to say, Costa Rica, but pleasant.

That was not what brought us back. The choice of three world-class restaurants with impeccable service steps from our hotel, the Lobster “Tango Mango,” the walk up a bustling street with varied music and a different scene in every doorway.

We stayed until closing, at which point our taxi driver explained that Key West never sleeps and we joined a procession of at least 50 cars and taxis heading to the Conch Flyer for nightcaps and breakfast. 

This is Key West! I now live here with my wife and our 7-year-old daughter. With this in mind, I implore our mayor and city commissioners to broaden their scope when looking for potential remedies to rising statistics. As previously stated, our worst outbreak came with shuttered bars and crippled restaurants, so it is happening elsewhere. Please do not take away our lifeblood, our uniqueness, our KEYWESTNESS!

Signed,
D.T. Darmante

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