KEY LARGO (CBSMiami) – The Florida Keys is welcoming back visitors starting Monday. The Keys have been closed to tourists since March 22 to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 during the global pandemic. The checkpoints were put into effect five days later.
But Sunday night, Monroe County Sheriff’s officers and the county’s public works department dismantled the two checkpoints on roads connecting the Florida Keys to mainland South Florida so visitors can return.
However, officials are stressing personal health responsibility.
“I’m a combination of excited for our economy to get going again so the people can get some money but I’m also a little nervous because we’ve been very successful in controlling the spread of the virus down here,” said Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers.
“It ain’t gonna be perfect,” said Dr. Mark Whiteside. “I believe we have to open up. Ya know you can’t live in a bubble down there.
Dr. Whiteside is the Monroe County Medical Director who believe those checkpoints helped prevent a serious outbreak of the coronavirus.
“We can’t prove that the checkpoint made a difference. My gut feeling, health officials, and leaders of the community believe it made a very significant different and one of the most important things we did.”
The decision to shut down the Keys to non-residents, to slow the spread of the virus, was a success. Monroe county has a total of just 108 cases and 4 deaths.
“We have been anxious for this day to come,” said fisherman Jose Capablanca. “We have precautions in hand and we are going to enjoy the ocean.”
Summer is the slow season in the Keys but this weekend could be a shot in the economic arm. With almost 18% unemployment, any flow of visitors is welcome even with the limitations on restaurant seating and with bars and nightclubs still closed.
Monroe County officials have said if there is a surge in coronavirus cases in June, restrictions may be heightened and amenities may close again.
“We are concerned on what is going to happen. We have had a good two and a half month run, we have minimum cases, haven’t had a case for a month now. We had one area, a nursing home, that had over twenty cases other than that not many cases,” said Monroe County Manager Roman Gastesi.
“We will see how it goes and hope we do not have a substantial surge,” said Dr. Whiteside.
Over 8,000 workers, most in the tourism sector, were out of work and the hope is that many will eventually get back to their jobs as the visitor numbers ramp up.