Today (July 7) Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers held a Live COVID-19 Q&A on Facebook. We have published the video of the event above and transcribed the highlights below:
Opening Statement: “Obviously everybody’s concerned with what we’re seeing in terms of the positive case count. It’s not where we want to be. It’s not the direction we want to be going in. The fact is we’re going to have to learn how to live with this thing for probably a year and that’s going to require all of us to take some steps towards personal responsibility and that primarily is going to include wearing a mask. We don’t have sufficient safety net to allow everyone to remain whole and be able to pay their bills and not go to work. And that’s just the reality of the situation we’re in right now. So, if we want to have any semblance of normalcy we’re going to have to live with some inconveniences and that’s what they are inconveniences. Nobody loves wearing these things. Let’s just consider it as a new kind of part of your wardrobe. A new accessory that we have to use to take care of what we do, take care of ourselves and each other.”
Is the roadblock going to go back up?
“At this point we’re not going to be putting the roadblock back up. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely off the table if things get to a place where we can’t really manage – our healthcare system can’t manage cases of COVID. Our positive rate has gone up. Right now I think we’re at seven – ah – we’re back to five hospitalizations. Two that were in the hospital yesterday have been discharged. That’s a manageable number. We are keeping close tabs on what the capacity of the hospitals is as well as the case counts. We’re coordinating literally daily with the health department and with the hospitals. At this point while we are seeing an increase in the number of positives we are not seeing a similar increase in the severity of the illness. And as I was saying earlier we’re going to have to probably be living with this for awhile. So unless the numbers get to a place where we can’t manage them and our healthcare system can’t manage them we’re going to keep the road open and remind everybody that it is required that you wear a mask whenever you cannot remain a distance of six feet from people you don’t know – indoors or outdoors. And we’re enforcing that. So, that’s where we are right now.”
How about closing down the places of business that are not compliant with the masks and social distancing?
“Sure. So, this past weekend – past week as of Friday – and I don’t have the weekend statistics yet – but there were forty-eight businesses that received a warning from our Code Compliance office. So, they’re warned that they’re not complying and they were asked to come into compliance. When they went back initially four of them weren’t complying – but now it’s only one that didn’t comply. They have a notice to appear. They can be fined – that business could be fined $1000 – up to $5000 and if they still don’t comply their manager – if their manager is still not cooperating and forcing our code people out without allowing them to do their jobs they can be arrested and yes – the businesses can be closed down if it comes to that.”
How many tickets have been given out for failure to wear a mask?
“So, we’re up to 78 citations in unincorporated Monroe County. I know last weekend in the City of Key West – the City of Key West gave out I think 83 – 83 citations.”
Where can you report businesses not enforcing wearing of masks?
“Sure. Let me give you the number for unincorporated Monroe and that is 305-289-2819. That’s if someone is in unincorporated Monroe they can call that number to report somebody. The municipalities all have their own phone numbers and you can find them all on our website: MonroeCounty-FL.gov/COVID-19. If it’s a weekend you can also call the Sheriff’s Office at 305-289-2531.”
With the hospital capacities getting filled in Miami what are we going to do down here for our hospitals and about shutdowns and roadblocks etc.?
“Sure. Again. We’re keeping an eye on it. When the hospitals start to tell us that they are starting to reach their capacity and understand it’s not just the capacity of the beds – it’s also staffing – The first thing that we – in other words we have staff to provide for X number oof beds – we may have more beds in our facilities than we have staff to accommodate them but we have agreements with the state – they will send down additional staff if it gets to that – then we start looking at – and the hospitals – as part of their charter – their ability to even operate – they have to have surge plans in place and they will include things like eliminating elective surgeries when things get tough – if things start to get tough. And if things start to get tough – if it get’s to the point where we don’t think we can manage this then – yes – we will look at closing down more things.”
What are we doing about wide spread testing being available? We keep hearing that it’s abundant throughout the state but yet we’re kind of having issues down here in the Keys.
“Yeah. The problem frankly with the testing right now – it’s not so much the kits – it’s the time it’s taking the labs to process the tests. We do have a series of free testing locations that are going on in Big Pine and I have to tell you the appointments have been made through Friday. So, appointments will be available starting next week in Big Pine at the Moose Lodge, in Key West at the college and in Islamorada at the Islamorada Moose Lodge. In the meantime private facilities do have tests – not all of them at the same time – but they’re getting them in regularly. Including Advanced Urgent Care, Key West Urgent Care, the Medical Center, the Keys Medical Group, Rural Health, Florida Keys AHEC, Doctor Norris, and the Community Health (CHI) and ASAP Urgent Care. There are a number of facilities and again you can find this, also on our website: MonroeCounty-FL.gov/COVID-19. You can also find it by emailing the Department of Health: [email protected].”
With the numbers increasing why can’t we put the roadblock up now?
“For a number of reasons. Primarily we don’t have the support of the state to do that at this point. They sort of turned their heads the last time we did it. We do not have – we don’t have their support. As it is now, again, although the positive cases are increasing the severity of the disease does not seem to be increasing at the same rate. So that means that – it’s still not a good thing – but it’s not forcing us to have to refrain from providing medical services when they’re provided. And that was one of things that we were all concerned about. If you all recall the reason that we all started flattening the curve was so that our healthcare system could adequately respond to the disease. Right now, today, our healthcare system can still adequately respond to the impacts of the disease and the virus. When that starts to change we’ll start closing things down again.”
What happened to the original plan where we had originally said we were going to try to stay closed as long as Miami-Dade’s numbers were not like they are?
“Well people at a higher pay grade than mine made some decisions for us. And you know frankly that’s what happened. It made it very difficult for us to remain in a cocoon when the rest of the economy was not doing the same thing and we were basically – the state did not agree with the – with a lot of the things that we wanted to continue with. So, that’s the simple answer.”
Is there an acceptable number of positive cases that you guys are looking for or anything along those lines?
“I wish I could give you that answer. And if you’ve been on any of the calls that we’ve had internally you’d know that’s a question I’ve been asking our healthcare providers a lot. What I do not know today: From the number of people that are tested positive what percentage of them are likely to end up in the hospital? What percentage of them are likely to require advanced medical care? We can’t a number for that. We do know that it seems that the individuals who are being tested positive now are younger. As long as they don’t have any comorbidities they tend to be able to withstand the disease pretty well so that keeps them out of the hospitals. That’s what happening as of today. So I can’t give you a firm answer right now. I don’t know how much people are reading about this but there’s also theories that we’ve gone from the “D” version of this virus – to something called – it has mutated into a “G” version that seems to perhaps more contagious but doesn’t seem to – with that increase of contagion – have increased the severity of the disease. So, we just don’t know a lot about this thing yet. But we don’t have a firm number. I wish I could tell you. I can tell you that yesterday morning we had a pretty heated – a number of pretty heated conversations because we were all very concerned about the one day spike of 30. We did not obviously see that today.”
Will we consider limiting lodging and vacation rentals again?
“Yes we will consider it. We’ll consider everything. Yes. If it comes to it yes we will consider it.”
What is the hurricane plan in accordance with this pandemic?
“Sure. So, our emergency managers have been working with emergency managers throughout South Florida on a hurricane plan and they have created protocols where – obviously if we need to evacuate we’ll still evacuate – but the places that we do evacuate to – the housing will be appropriately distanced. There are hotels for instance that are now within the fold that can provide some housing if that’s required – on the mainland – and for places here in the Keys – you know – those shelters of last resort – they are going to be staged such that there is significant distancing between the cots or the areas where people have to go.”
What is the County thinking about lobster mini season?
“We’ve had a couple of meeting to discuss mini season. As you know I brought this up on May 20th at our commission meeting. We had a discussion about whether to proceed with mini season. And at the time of course our numbers were much more favorable and our curve was quite flat. But even having said that there are a couple of issues with mini season. First it would really require a Governor’s order and the Fish and Wildlife Commission to weigh in and categorically say that mini season in the Keys has been cancelled. Because you have to understand mini season is a statewide event. It seems to impact us more than anybody else because we have more lobster than anybody else so everybody comes down here. So, it would take the Governor to make a change in how we deal with that. The other problem is that even if we did eliminate mini season it would simply move the start of season a week later which is August 6th. Which would put all the recreational folks on the water at the same time as the commercial folks. And unless you completely cancel lobster season, which would be completely devastating to the commercial industry – we can’t really do that. Having said those things – I think people need to remember that it was only last week that we halted all the TDC advertising, focused all of our messaging on our protocols on masking, washing hands, maintaining social distance, installed banners up and down US 1, have been doing press releases and all kinds of communications regarding what our protocols are. We’ve not even been doing that – not even a full week, frankly. So, I do believe that those items along with the increased enforcement of our masking ordinance will help us control the spread of this virus with or without mini season. And having said that the real damage – potential damage – from mini season in terms of this virus is not so much when they’re out on the water on their boats – it’s more likely to be when they are in common areas at the end of a long day having a beer in a dark bar. That’s where we’re seeing the transmission of this disease to a greater extent. Now, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation has already told bars that they can not open – as long they’re a bar – primarily a bar and have 51% or more of their revenue comes from alcohol sales they can not function except to go in closed containers. And restaurants can only serve people when they are seated. We are also – we are considering other options such as providing a curfew and making sure that everybody’s home and snug in their beds by 9:00 or 10:00 o’clock at night during min season if it comes to that. You know we have also not taken off the table the opportunity to regulate vacation rentals and even hotel occupancies if it comes to that. But, you know, it seems like it’s right away but we’re two weeks away from mini season so we’re going to continue to watch it. But at this point we’re not cancelling mini season. We did not have consensus to do that. The County Commission will be discussing it again tomorrow in our budget hearing.”
What happens if you’re in a business and you’re a business owner or manager and your asking someone to put on a mask and they’re not complying with you?
“You ask them to leave and if they don’t you call the Sheriff or the police and they are removed for trespassing.”
Coordination with Miami-Dade?
“Miami-Dade did a few things differently than we did. They have banned short term rentals whatever that means and that’s been a little unclear because short term rental could be a hotel or a transient rental or a vacation rental which we’re not doing at this point which doesn’t mean we won’t consider it. Their beaches remain open as have ours. Their bars are closed as are ours. They have restricted their restaurant service. We’re not doing that yet but we’re going to keep an eye on it and if – you know today’s numbers were better than yesterday’s numbers and better than a couple of the numbers last week. If we continue to see that we’re going to remain status quo – for now.”
“I just want to say that obviously the decisions that we’ve been having to make have been very difficult ones because we’re really concerned about the health of our community. We’re also concerned about the mental health of our community and the ability of our residents to be able to pay their bills. So balancing that has been an extreme challenge. This virus is going to be with us for some time. You know, I can tell you for myself at the end of May I thought, ‘Oh great that was the first wave. We’re not really going to have to worry until possibly the Fall.’ But now we realize we weren’t even done with the first wave yet. The only way for us to be able to have any semblance of a normal life is for us all to follow the protocols and the primary protocol is wear your mask when you’re in public. If you can’t stay six feet away from people you don’t know or people that you’re not living with then wear your mask. It’s very simple. That’s the best way to eliminate the ravages of this disease. It’s up to all of us folks. It’s up to business owners, it’s up to visitors, it’s up to our residents to follow these protocols. Keep your distance, wash your hands, wear your mask in public. Thank you.”