Yesterday, in response to an outcry from struggling restaurant owners, the City Commission decided to once again allow seating at bar counters in licensed restaurant establishments. Commissioners also discussed easing the current Key West mask law so that residents and visitors in Key West, while still being required to always have masks on hand, will no longer be required to wear the masks over their faces when outdoors and not in close proximity to others. The Commission will take this up for a decision at their next meeting, September 16th.
Dr. Elias Gerth, a 30-year resident and local physician, had sent suggestions to Commissioners to help guide these types of decisions ahead of yesterday’s meeting and we share his letter with you now:
Dear Mayor, City Commissioners, City Manager:
I want to thank you all for striking a balance between protecting personal safety and returning to a more normal life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a Key West resident for more than 30 years and a physician, who has treated at least 5 members of the Commission or their family members during that time, I hope you will consider my suggestions when you vote now and in the future about issues that affect our citizens’ lives. Those who know me or of me, can judge whether I am a rational actor and capable of providing useful insight into the pandemic.
–definitely appropriate when in crowded spaces and entering or existing business establishments of all kinds.
–not necessary or counterproductive during exercise or exertion (indoors or outdoors). Exercise is critical for health and wellbeing. We can continue without risk to ourselves or to others. Please do not shut out this avenue of normalcy.
–not necessary or let’s say OPTIONAL when walking, biking, visiting the beach, playing tennis or golf, fishing, riding a moped or motorcycle, driving in a car, taking a sunset cruise or taking a city tour especially in an open vehicle.
–this is critical for our children, in schools and through extra-curricular activities. This can be done safely and must resume for their overall health.
–this is critical for our family members through small gatherings, restaurants, establishments of worship, city wide events etc.
–Hospitalized people, those in rehab or long term care are most vulnerable. We cannot treat them as prisoners and deprive them of support during the time of their greatest need.
I have been very disappointed with the Miami facilities who have prevented family from visiting our patients when care was required. In my view this was an absurd adaptation to the crisis that caused more harm than good.
–Our Hospital on the other hand has been most compassionate in this regard and has allowed family members to visit their loved ones who are sick or confined. This practice should be adopted by all facilities in the Keys. Our health care partners in South Florida should learn from our example how we can support our loved ones while we practice rational precautions.
–please increase the capacity allowance and allow people to sit at the bar. I cannot discern a difference from sitting at a table next to a bar stool versus sitting actually on a bar stool. Proper social distancing maintained but, friends and family sitting together is allowed.
–this is the fundamental basis of all our interactions. We have to respect people but in so doing, not unreasonably control or deprive others of their independence.
–Between the ages of 6 months and 50 years, if the person is healthy, COVID-19 is not a dangerous problem especially compared to so many other problems and threats we deal with every day. There are certainly more dangerous diseases around us every day.
–For the elderly and more vulnerable we can and have been doing a better, more focused and targeted job of helping to protect them while they take personal responsibility to protect themselves.
–there are ways to safely open bars, allow sporting events, allow social gatherings, maintain business stability etc. that do not require absolute lockdowns and quarantine measures.
–we can modify our approach carefully but with determination and permit a return to many normal activities.
Finally, beware the fear mongers.
Elias J. Gerth, MD, FCCM
Dr. Elias Gerth, MD, FCCM is fellowship trained in Intensive Care Medicine and Internal Medicine and has been in practice for 40 years. He is a Fellow of the College of Critical Care Medicine and for many years was the only Board Certified Critical Care specialist in the Florida Keys. His undergraduate schooling was at UCLA. He started medical school in Munich, Germany then transferred to Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara. He graduated from University of Calif, Irvine.