This morning Monroe County’s Emergency Management Director, Shannon Weiner, held a countywide COVID-19 coordinating meeting for local government officials, representatives and hospitals in light of the recent spike in cases of COVID-19 throughout the county. The number of cases had doubled from 109 to 219 in less than one month since the reopening of the Keys to tourists on June 1st. Today’s report shows an additional 17 cases bringing the number up to 236.
See the video above for the full briefing. We have transcribed some highlights below:
Checkpoints: The concept of the checkpoints going back up is not off the table but officials say the parameters are not met at this point in time. Parameters are: hospital capacity (ICU beds available, ventilators available), percentage of positive tests. At this time hospitalizations are stable with 3 total in the Florida Keys.
Bars: The City of Key West may be strengthening bar restrictions — possibly to allow alcohol consumption only at tables – as a result of the party recently spreading from bars onto the streets and people not following masking or social distancing guidelines. [Side note: The Governor’s order prohibits indoor consumption of alcohol at bars but allows carry-out and delivery. Restaurants (establishments that derive at least 50% of revenue from sale of food and non-alcoholic beverages) may continue to serve alcohol at their bar areas but must adhere to social distancing guidelines and those consuming alcohol must be seated – either at the bar or at a table. Another note: The City of Key West has long had a law prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in outdoor public spaces although in the past it has rarely, if ever, been enforced against tourists. ]
TDC advertising: TDC is suspending advertising for the Florida Keys beginning July 1st for at least 2 weeks.
Key Colony Beach: A Key Colony Beach government staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member’s contact was fairly extensive and almost all of the staff must be tested.
Second Nursing Home Affected: Key West Health & Rehabilitation Center on College Road, Stock Island has a staff member test positive for COVID-19.
Some highlights transcribed verbatim below:
Roman Gastesi, County Administrator: “We have to make some decisions today. We had an earlier call today with some of us within the County and the mindset was – I always talk about the mindset – I always talk about the atmosphere that we need to present. We’re basically back to March – mid-March. I think we need to show people that this thing is getting serious – it’s a spike. I don’t get into the health department’s lane. I think Bob is going to explain that. Everyone sees the numbers. Things are spiking. That’s the bad news. The good news is hospitalizations are stable and low and the deaths are still at four. A little bit of a spike in hospitalizations last week really caught everybody’s attention. It got up to six. It looked like it was going to rise but then it came back down to three – so that’s good. That’s the main thing that I’m looking at – that and deaths of course. But the numbers are spiking. We’ve doubled our numbers in three weeks that we had done in the past three-and-one-half months. So, we need to do something. Therefore – as you’ve seen – the press releases are out – we are going to close the beaches and the parks starting Thursday evening through Tuesday – until Tuesday morning – in conjunction with the three counties to our north. We’re also going to consider other closures and we hope everybody does the same thing. Again the atmosphere should be – we’ve got to close this thing down – as close to closure as we can get and that Safer-at-Home, Safe-at-Home is better than getting out and about. If you have to go out and about – great – but everyone’s seen the traffic. Everybody’s seen what’s going on. We need to send a message: Stay home if you can and that should be – again – the overall, arching, atmosphere that we need to set because there is a spike and things are not looking as good as I was hoping at this point.”
About the checkpoints: “A couple of people have mentioned the checkpoints and we’re getting bombarded about the checkpoints and what we’re going to do – whether we’re going to put them back up again or not. You know, there’s no playbook on this. Right now I’ve no clue whether we’re going to put them back up again or not. I would guess not – right at this point. That’s a guess – Roman guessing. The parameters that we’ve been talking about – that’s hospitalizations, ICU beds, ventilators, positive percentages of cases of testing. What I would like to say is it will be very evident when the time comes if we have to put the checkpoints up. It will be very evident. It will something that everybody will agree – well not everybody because there’s always those Flat Earth Society folks – you know – though we can’t do much about them. But it’ll be something that we have to do when the time comes and I hope we don’t get to that time. But we’re monitoring it very carefully. I think the messaging, the way that people react – and what – it’s in peoples hands right now – this whole thing – so – and everything we do has to show that – that they have the ability to control this thing on their own and that’s why we’re closing beaches and doing the things we’re doing. But as far as the checkpoints my guess would be that they don’t go up again because I think with everything that all the governments are doing throughout the state – especially in South Florida – everybody I hope is going to start behaving the way they’re supposed to be behaving and then it won’t be necessary. But that’s kind of my thoughts on the checkpoint. Of course I’m not the only one that makes the decision on that but you know it’s got to be about the hospitalizations and ICU beds and our capacity to have some medical – medical equipment – and help folks out. So I don’t know if Mayor you want to follow up on that but we’re getting a lot of questions on the checkpoints.”
Heather Carruthers, Monroe County Mayor: “Here we go again. Hopefully some of the actions that we’ve taken, just last week, with the mandatory masking and improved enforcement and going back to no congregating in bars – maybe that will help. But the two big factors are going to be the number of people who test and test positive and the hospitalization rate. So far we are ok on hospitalization rate. Obviously the people who are testing positive and the percentage of those who are tested and are testing positive is worrisome. And we’re keeping an eye on it. You know, we’re going to do the best that we can.”
About the checkpoints: “No, I think we’re all on the same page. We’re looking at this really carefully – you know – as we’re on this call I have the news on in the background and I see that there are other states where the cases are spiking and the hospitalizations are increasing. So, if we start to see that then we are going to have an issue. I was on a call between our 8:00 am call and this 9:30 call – I was on another call with some official from South Florida including some hospitals and they are starting to see some increases in hospitalizations. So I think we need to be very concerned and keep a very close eye on it and look to our health department and our health officials to share with us accurate data and keep an eye on this and if we need to walk down that path and we need to make sure this time as much as possible that we have support from others within the state.”
Bob, Eadie, Administrator Monroe County Department of Health: “We are starting to get more support from the State. We had our first assignee here today, more are coming. We’ve been able to also add some more to our staff for contact tracing and are expecting more. We will be able to expand our testing and in fact we have a call at 10:30 that we hope to finalize our plans for setting up some community testing that is going on… Key Colony Beach has a an issue in that one of their staff had tested positive. We thought that her exposure to others was limited but it turned out when they made their contact tracing themselves that it’s more extensive so we need to test almost all of the staff now and it’s really totally impacting their areas… I saw Dante’s pool – which is a public pool in Key West – that people weren’t shoulder to shoulder but they almost were. No masks. No masks, no social distancing. I got a call yesterday from someone … this person was extremely upset that – mile marker 84 – there were people – same sort of thing – just totally not social distancing at all – huge crowd and also no one wearing a mask. So, the issue is throughout the Keys. And the truth of the matter is, just like Roman is saying, the disease keeps changing in a lot of ways. We were fortunate for the time we had the checkpoint up. You saw what the results were. We did a really good job, the community was behind it. Now it’s like – with the checkpoint off – it’s almost like it’s business as it used to be and the thing is that it’s not. We are really in the position now of, ‘What are we going to do?’ because we are teetering on the edge of having a real huge outbreak. The things that we need to be doing are exactly the things that we said all along and those are the things that we have that will stop the disease and the only things that we have that will stop the disease and that is for everyone to wear a mask and to wear a mask everywhere that they can’t socially distance by six feet. And to make sure that you wash your hands and if you’re sick stay home. If someone’s sick have them stay home and wear the mask and socially distance. And require everybody to do it because the increase in our rates are not coming from one area. So you can’t blame it on one group of people. It’s both our residents and visitors coming in, I think, based on our contact tracing. And it goes from Key Largo all the way down to Key West and the distribution keeps changing and Key West is not growing as fast as it was with cases but you see the other parts of the Keys catching up. So, Roman’s absolutely correct. I don’t know and I won’t give you a figure or a number of what it will take to set a checkpoint back up for us to close down the Keys again but keep in mind how important it is that the number of ICU beds are limited in the Keys; our hospitalization capacity is limited. So, it won’t take too much before we are starting to overload our system. It won’t take too much before we are overwhelmed after that. So, it is vital that not only the – not only us that are government – take as much positive action that we can. But the thing is we can’t cover somebody’s mouth if they cough. We can’t put a mask on somebody. That’s their responsibility to do it but we should do everything that we possibly can to make it so that people make the right choices. That’s my message for the day. It hasn’t changed much. But that’s what we’ve got to do.” [Bob Eadie later revealed that there is at least one positive case at the Key West Health & Rehabilitation Center on College Road, Stock Island.]
Bob Veliz, City Manager, City of Key West: “Obviously, we’ve cancelled our fireworks. We’re going to close our beaches in line with you guys – our beaches and parks. We’re also having a real hard time enforcing the new service in bars and the ability to take away and so you may see today – that we’re going to – we might strengthen our bar restrictions to restrict service from bars – either seated at bars or take-away service from bars – [allowing] only table service. Unlike some of the other Keys, we have Duval Street. So what’s happening is people that are being serviced at bars are spilling out into the street so the party happens on the sidewalk. So, we may address that today. I just think that it’s fair that we give you guys a heads up.”
Richard Strickland, Monroe County Director of Airports: “The numbers for the weekend for the airport are about 900 passengers each day for the holiday weekend upcoming – that’s just an estimate.”
Andy Newman, TDC: “Number one I wanted everyone to know that earlier today I had a conversation with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association because I’m hoping that there can be some very strong messaging that they can do – not just to Keys’ hotels and restaurants because people have got to get on the stick here and lead by example in terms of masking and social distancing because I got several reports with regards to hotels in the Middle and the Upper Keys that it was – that it didn’t happen – in pools and public places. And it’s just got to happen. Absolutely has to happen. So, hopefully they’re going to do that and there are the same challenges in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, other places around the state and around the world. So, hopefully they will send out some very strong messaging. We had a request from the County that the TDC got on Thursday. TDC had a very good meeting with a couple of County officials. We have decided to temporarily suspend paid advertising beginning July 1 for two weeks. Some time between this date and two weeks from now we’ll get back together with officials to plot out the future. [See video for more about public banners regarding masks going up on power poles and a 30 second PSA that the TDC is airing on cable within Miami-Dade and also the Keys.]