This morning we learned a few things during the countywide Covid-19 conference. Representatives from all Florida Keys municipalities, the Department of Health, local hospitals, the Sheriff’s Office, FWC, the School District, State Representative Holly Raschein and others participated. [See video above]
Some highlights below:
“OPENING UP” THE KEYS / Coordination with Counties to the North
Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said Monroe County is coordinating with the three counties to our north (Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach) regarding when and how to begin “opening up” and easing coronavirus restrictions. Gastesi said the plan is to move forward with next steps by way of “a very careful, slow, phased approach.” The group has decided to split the initial rolling back of restrictions into three categories: Outdoor spaces, retail and hotels. In recent days, he said, they’ve been focusing on outdoor spaces specifically, which they have further categorized into parks, marinas, golf courses, and beaches. The Mayor of Miami, Carlos Gimenez, who has been leading the multi-county coordination effort, is having a town hall meeting this evening to gain input from his constituents. Gastesi says that Gimenez is leaning towards golf courses being opened first but with a lot of conditions to ensure there is no physical contact.
County Mayor Heather Carruthers: “Yes, we are coordinating with the counties to the north but in doing that we are letting them know that we are not going to make a move until we feel safe. From my perspective, they have to be open and offering all of their amenities before we even consider opening ours because otherwise their folks will just come down here and take advantage of our amenities.” The Mayor said she was a little bit surprised at Dade’s eagerness to open given their positive case rate. (17% of the folks who get tested up there are testing positive. We’re at 8%.) “Mayor Gimenez yesterday said he believes that there’s 20 to 30 times more people that are infected than have tested positive so far. Which would put it at – they’ve got close to 10,000 – so he’s talking – maybe were talking 300,000 – as many as that – could be infected in Miami-Dade,” said Carruthers. “So, I think we need to be a little more careful because we have been able to keep our curve relatively flat and we need to make sure that we can continue to do that because once the Keys are open everyone in the world is going to want to come back here and who can blame them? So, we are coordinating. We are watching what they are doing. Our timetable is going to be a little bit different than theirs and we’re developing our own plan.”
State Representative Holly Raschein announced that the Governor is currently working on putting together a task force “about how we are going to slowly and safety open up our state.” She told the group an unnamed local representative was being considered for appointment to the group.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH:
Bob Eadie, the Administrator of the Monroe County Department of Health, told the group about the uptick in cases over the weekend. [There were an additional 5 cases bringing the local case count up to 73.] “The reason we have is there was a cluster of individuals who were in a very communal type living arrangement. One has tested positive and from subsequent testing of those we picked up a number of others in the Key West area. I bring that up just because we are not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination.”
Bob Eadie: “As long as we are still 1. finding clusters and 2. still having active infections throughout the entire Keys then we need to be very very careful with what we do. I know I’m being conservative but this is something that we really need to be careful with what we do – so, a very cautious measured approach. I know people are very very frustrated about being able to move around and being so restricted but we still have active infection here, we still have a ways to go. We are a lot closer to being towards the end of the curve than we have been but we’re not there yet.”
Test kits are still “on the way”:
Bob Eadie: “I think we’ll be able to do testing and within a few weeks is what I keep hearing. We’ve had really some great offers of people to help with testing. Dentists are willing to do whatever they can up and down the Keys. So, if we can get the kits then I think we can get people tested. We keep asking for the tests. I keep being told that they are being approved. I keep being told that the capacity is ramping up and they are supposed to be on the way here. That’s the information that I get. There are more tests coming online that the FDA is willing to approve on an emergency basis. The real issue right now is that even if we had the tests the lab capacity is not there to be testing for the virus itself. You can test for the antibodies a lot quicker than you can for the actual virus itself because you need to swab it and grow it. That takes more time and the lab capacity is not there. It continues to ramp up and I’m just repeating what I’m being told by both Tallahassee and the CDC. But you’ve got to remember it’s two pronged on your testing. One is to see who actually has the disease at this point in time and take action for that and the follow-up with that is to see how many people have antibodies or have had the disease so we can figure out where the pockets are, make sure we’re doing all the contact-tracing and all we can. Without having a real robust ability to test, then we’ve got to be even more conservative because we are sort of flying in the dark.”
Shannon Weiner, Director Emergency Management, Monroe County: “The test kits that they do have do go to the hot spots and the mass testing facilities that you are seeing in the counties to our north – those are state run facilities. Those are not being run locally. They were initially run by the federal government and now they are being run by the state with the support of the National Guard. So those larger hot spots do tend to be the priority and we do do what we can to make sure that our local health community has the tests that they need as well.”
Once we get enough of the test kits will we be able to conduct mass testing here in the Keys?
Bob Eadie: “We have a community-wide testing plan that we’ve already put together. The real question is where to get the people to do it. But I’m thinking it won’t be quite as elaborate as you would see in Miami-Dade. Well it depends – if we get the support from the state and from elsewhere – but if we start using all of the dentists offices that we have (and we haven’t worked that out yet) and there are volunteers that you could use and perhaps we could use some of the military. If we combine all our assets then we could do a robust testing program if we had the capacity to 1. have the tests and then 2. have them come back in a timely fashion. There are still tests out there now that are taking 7-10 days to come back and that’s in the private sector. The state lab will get them back in 24 hours to 48 hours but the vast majority is being done privately and they said they had the capacity but they don’t really yet. It’s not ramped up.”
Lower Keys Medical Center running low on some supplies:
David Clay: “Isolation gowns and testing swabs are a big challenge right now.” He also said LKMC has three persons under investigation for COVID-19 hospitalized and one patient who tested positive for COVID-19 hospitalized.
State Representative, Holly Raschein, spoke about the unemployment benefit situation. “The system was extremely overloaded from the get-go. I’m happy to report that the process if finally starting to catch-up with all of the reforms that the Governor has implemented. He also made a change in leadership as we have all heard by now.”
“The CARES Act payments are not being deposited at the same time as the state payments. There’s a different sort of backlog there. Also no word on when the pandemic unemployment benefits are going to start.”
“I do want to mention that people that are earning more than $275 per week right now are likely not eligible for any payments from the state or federal funds under the traditional unemployment process. There are other programs that are important to note for this pandemic situation.”
We asked Representative Raschein for some clarification which she provided this afternoon:
“That [$275/week] does not apply to what you were earning before you were laid off. It specifically refers to monies that you are receiving at present for any employment and if those monies exceed $275 per week then you are likely not eligible for state or federal benefits, however each claim is different and these are just the broad guidelines given by DEO that were in place prior to this pandemic. What I would like to mention is that the state unemployment and federal unemployment benefits are two separate sources of funds and they have their own guidelines. In the next week we hope to see direction from DEO with regards to pandemic unemployment assistance, and pandemic emergency unemployment assistance, which would give people who would not traditionally have access to state unemployment benefits, such as contract workers, or self-employed workers a means to access the federal unemployment funds to help them through this difficult time.”
BUSIER CHECKPOINTS/NO CLEANING CREW FOR AIRPORT:
Major Chad Scibilia of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said that the checkpoint is getting busier on the weekends. “We had 531 turnarounds on Saturday and 193 on Sunday. The numbers seem to be going up specifically on the weekends.”
Richard Strickland, Senior Director of Airports told the group that the airport cleaning crew who comes down from Homestead had been turned around at the checkpoint.
State Representative Holly Raschein said that she has not recently heard any indications that the state will be pushing back on maintaining the Florida Keys checkpoints at the 18-Mile Stretch and Card Sound Road.