May 082020

County Mayor Heather Carruthers held another Facebook Live COVID-19 Q&A earlier this week, just one days after the Keys began following the governor’s latest directive relaxing some COVID-19 restrictions across Florida in an effort to slowly and carefully wake up the local economy. All Florida counties other than “COVID-19 hot-spots” Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are included in the governor’s “Phase 1” order.

Mayor Carruthers answered questions about what the governor’s phase 1 order means for businesses and more.

Below are some highlights:

The Governor’s Order:

“Obviously we have acquiesced to the governor’s order and as of yesterday morning restaurants are now allowed to serve provided a couple of things happen. That is that they reduce their capacity to 25%. If you are a restauranteur and you have trouble figuring out what your capacity is and what 25% is you can call the county’s fire marshal to help with that calculation. Also no service at the bars. You need to keep your tables at least six feet apart, no parties larger than 10 and your servers need to be wearing face coverings.”

“We’ve heard that some of the restaurants have not really been complying with those regulations, those restrictions, those protective measures. If that’s the case we may have to rescind our opening there. So, we don’t want to have to do that. So, please understand that if you don’t follow those regulations you could be subject to disciplinary action which could include a notice to appear in court. We just ask everybody to comply because we’re just all trying to be safer here.”

When will hotels open back up?

“We do not have the answer to that question yet because, again, we still need to see that there’s been a lot of progress in terms of a reduction in active cases on the mainland. I can tell you that Miami-Dade expects that possibly as many as 250,000 people in Dade County might have this virus. So that’s a big number and we’re really concerned about introducing it here into the Keys. We’ve been pretty safe so far. As they continue to see their number of cases decline and their test results show good signs then we’ll start to take a look at that but we do not have a date yet regardless of what anyone might be thinking or advertising we do not have a date yet.”

Salons, nails, barber shops?

“The governor’s order as well as the orders for both the City of Key West and the County allow non-essential retail – in-store retail – to open up but not personal services at this point. Sadly, believe me, everybody is asking about that. So, I don’t know when that’s going to happen. But, we’ve always said we need to take a little step – see if it increases the number of cases. If we see a spike then we don’t take that next step. So far we’re just two days into the first step with the restaurants and in-store retail – again maintaining 25% capacity, and distancing and masking etc. So, we’re going to see how this goes and we’re going to take it from there.”

Where can we get tested for COVID-19?

“Key West Urgent Care on Government Road, Advanced Urgent Care on North Roosevelt. There’s an Advanced Urgent Care also in the Upper Keys. Community Health (CHI) is also doing some testing. Take a look at my Facebook page – that will give you the locations and the phone numbers.”  CLICK HERE for the list.

Checkpoint is only checking ID of one person in the car. Is that fixable?

“I wish it were fixable. And believe me this a conversation that we’ve had many many times. Part of our challenge is that we can not create such a backup of traffic that traffic exceeds into the Miami-Dade County line. That will be a problem and it will produce additional pressure for us to take that checkpoint down completely which is not something that we want to do. So between that concern of how long it would take to check everyone in the car and frankly another concern for the safety of the people who are at the checkpoint sticking their heads into car windows to get some of that information – we don’t have a solution to that right now. But again we’re asking everybody in those vehicles to self-isolate when you get here. You know, follow the rules. I wish I had a better answer for you but that’s the answer we’ve got.”

How come you are safe from the virus at a restaurant but not at a bar?  

“Well I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. First – the governor said so. But I think it’s because bars by their nature are much more social. You’re more likely to be sitting next to someone who is not quarantining or isolating with you who is not in your immediate family or immediate circle of friends. And, of course, as you’re at a bar you tend to get a little looser as you consume alcoholic beverages. So, I think that those are the reasons, that’s the thinking that went into that for the governor. So, at some point that will hopefully change, but we’re not there yet.”

When will other non-essential businesses open?

“I hope soon. Certainly there are plenty of non-essential businesses that should be able to operate sooner. But I would say, again, we’re going to wait and see how this baby step of 25% at restaurants and in-store retail goes and if we’re not seeing a big increase or spike in cases then we’ll move to the next step. The health department would like to see two weeks between each of these steps. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to keep to that time table. In an ideal world that would be great but we all, obviously, have other pressures that we’re taking a look at. And you know really we haven’t seen a significant increase in this county in a little over two weeks now – two and a half weeks. So and we have already opened up our parks and allowed things like tennis playing and certainly the beaches are open in Key West at least. So, we’re not seeing that spike yet. We’re looking at this as we go along. I can’t give you a firm date but hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Taking reservations for visitor stays?

“The discussion that we had this morning was with members of the task force on transient rentals whether it’s hotels, vacation rentals, timeshares etc and the issue that we’re having is that it’s quite clear from the governor’s order that we do not want transient rentals and visitors to come back to the Keys yet. Vacation rentals are off the table. The problem with the governor’s order is that it doesn’t specify whether a business owner can take a reservation for some time in the future – even that’s a year from now. So, what we’re trying to figure out is how can we craft our ordinance to allow people to take reservations for some time in the future provided those reservations are conditional upon the state of emergency being lifted. With that, of course, you know, you could take a reservation – theoretically – for November and we could have a come-back of this virus and have to close things down again. We want to make sure people will be able to either get their money back or get a credit for a future stay if that’s the case and they have to change their travel plans at no fault of their own. So, that’s the kind of thing that we’re thinking about and we’re trying to discuss this morning, what are the details oof that and how do we make that consonant with the governor’s order and that’s what our legal teams are looking at right now.”


“I hope that by the end of this week we’ll have an answer to that and we’ll give people the availability. Again, it’s a legal issue with conflicting orders at the state level versus the local level and how do we make those not conflict.”


“We have a testing task force that’s looking at: What’s the best test out there? How do we make sure that we consolidate all of the results from those tests? Should we be doing antibody tests? And what are we going to actually glean from those? Or just active viral tests? Where are we going to do the tests? How many do we need to do to have a sense of safety for our community?”

How many of those infected have recovered?

“I wish that we had more accurate data on that. You know what happens is that you have the illness, you’ve tested positive, you may have symptoms and be able to shed it for between 7 and 14 days and then after those days have elapsed you can be tested again. Generally they assume that if you test negative twice after you’ve tested positive that you’re over the disease but that’s not 100% accurate. It’s not always foolproof. But at any rate we’re not getting those numbers yet from DOH. It’s just not being reported. But I would assume that at least half of those people have recovered by now.”

Safer at Home:

“The governor in his order called out the fact that you are still safer at home and encouraged people to stay at home. Particularly those people who are in vulnerable populations. And that’s individuals who are elderly, over 65 and have underlying health conditions. Those folks in particular should really be very cautious about leaving home and they’re  encouraged not to do so.  Basically it doesn’t matter – you’re always safer at home.”

Antibody tests v. Viral tests

“The viral tests that we get are the the tests that tell you whether or not the disease is active in your body – in your bloodstream. Whether you actively have the virus and generally if you actively have the virus there’s a good chance you are able to shed that virus which means you’re contagious. An antibody test tells you that your body has built up some immunity to this virus and when you can test that immunity it means that you’ve had the virus. In most cases, in other viruses for instance, if you have those immunities you are able to be immune form the virus in the future. This is a new thing. This is a new disease and there’s been some conflicting data on whether you are immune for a short period of time, for a long period of time or at all if you do test positive for the antibodies. All it really tells you is that you have had the disease.”

How will masks work in restaurants?

“Servers are supposed to wear face coverings and you’re supposed to wear one when you go in – except when eating or drinking.”

Are masks required on beaches?

“No, they’re not required on beaches, provided you stay six feet away from everybody.”

Cities can have different regulations:

“Just as the county has the ability to enact stricter regulations than the state, the municipalities have the ability to also enact stricter regulations than the county.”

Closing Statement:

“I just want to thank everybody again. Look, all the decisions that we’re making – none of them are easy. And this particular crisis is very different than any other disaster that we’ve dealt with in terms of the length of time – the unknown about that – the uncertainty. You know, we’re used to dealing with hurricanes. We’re not used to dealing with this. The scope of this – it’s literally global – it’s not local. And also it has a lot to do with human behavior and particularly we as Americans really miss our freedoms and we are more than cognizant of that. So, we’re doing our best to balance those two aspects – our health as well as our freedom – our economic stability. It’s not an easy path that we’re on right now but I will say that should we become looser or more liberal in our restrictions too soon and if we were to see a spike – a dramatic increase in this virus as a result – that will be more damaging to all of us in the long run than being a little more patient right now. We’ve seen that happen in other communities both with this virus as well as with things like the Spanish Flu in 1918. So we need to be careful as we try to at lease reengage some parts of the commerce that make our lives run.”

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