Key West Mayor Backs Off From Booze Curfew, Asks Businesses To Help With Mask Ordinance Compliance
As the numbers of COVID-19 cases rise in the Keys and unmasked crowds fill the downtown on weekends, Key West's mayor proposed a midnight curfew on bars and booze sales. It did not go over well.
Key West officials are frustrated with how to get visitors to wear masks when they can't socially distance — like on crowded Duval Street sidewalks.
Mayor Teri Johnston proposed closing bars and restaurants and stopping alcohol sales at midnight.
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More than a dozen people spoke against the idea. They said the industry was being singled out.
"Why is it only bars and restaurants that spread COVID after midnight?" said Amy Lay, speaking on behalf of the Benihana restaurant in Key West.
"Why is it midnight? Are bars and restaurants like those cute little critters in Gremlins — feed them after midnight and then they turn nasty?" Lay said.
It wasn't just bar and restaurant owners who objected to the curfew. Hotel and attraction owners also said it would hurt their business.
The Key West Chamber of Commerce answers the phones and fields any questions posed to the local tourism development agency.
"The number one question since all of this happened is 'What are the restrictions in Key West?'" said Scott Atwell from the chamber. "And they're asking these questions because it's a competitive travel environment out there. And people are going to go where they feel welcome."
Johnston withdrew the curfew proposal. But she says she wants the business community to work with the city to get tourists to wear masks and socially distance.
That's the message Monroe Health Administrator Bob Eadie says they need to get.
"Just because you're in Key West doesn't mean you leave your brains, your ethics, your common sense behind," he said. "Yes, you may be on vacation but we live here. And if you're here, you're part of our community now."
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley said keeping the number of COVID-19 cases down should help tourism.
"If we become a safe community, believe me, people are going to want to come. That's our number one priority, is the health and safety of this community," he said.
Commissioner Gregory Davila said it's not just tourists spreading COVID downtown — that it's also happening with locals at house parties, birthday parties and other gatherings.
"Our Key West community, we're very social. We love each other and we want to see each other and hug each other," he said. "But this isn't over and we're spreading this through our own COVID fatigue."
Moving forward, the Key West commission will also get an update on COVID at every meeting.