Monroe County has essentially tried to self-isolate an entire island chain. The Keys shut down tourism — its primary industry — and put up a checkpoint to make sure only residents, property owners and essential workers get in.
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Since then, people have been trying to get around the rules, using fake hurricane re-entry stickers or phony placards like those given to essential workers. And some who are allowed in to the Keys are getting turned away if they don't have the right documents.
Here are the county's rules for the checkpoint:
- An original Florida driver license or identification card showing the address for a property located in the Florida Keys portion of Monroe County. A photocopy or paper printout denoting an address change is not sufficient.
- A hard copy deed, residential lease for at least a 181-day duration, a 2020 utility bill from either the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, Florida Keys Energy Services, or the Florida Keys Electric Co-Op, a tax bill, or vehicle registration for a property located in Monroe County with a government-issued driver’s license or identification card with the same name. Documents establishing ownership of a Florida Keys property owned by a limited liability company or other business entity, like a partnership or corporation, is insufficient to establish residency will not work at the checkpoint. Comcast, AT&T and other communications or cable bills are not accepted as residency verification.
Nonresidents can demonstrate that they have legitimate business in the Florida Keys portion of Monroe County by providing at least one of the following at the checkpoint:
- An employee identification card issued by an employer in the Florida Keys portion of Monroe County;
- A hard-copy paystub issued within the last month by an employer in the Florida Keys portion of Monroe County;
- A hard-copy letter from the nonresident’s employer on company letterhead attesting that the individual is working in the Florida Keys portion of Monroe County;
- A contract to perform services with a resident or entity in the Florida Keys portion of Monroe County;
- Military identification and/or orders detailing that individual to serve in the Florida Keys portion of Monroe County;
- A vehicle containing items for delivery in the Florida Keys portion of Monroe County, including but not limited to fuel, groceries, paper products, construction materials, and other goods;
- An "authorized emergency vehicle" as that term is defined in F.S. 316.003 or F.S. 322.01.
- Any vehicle owned by the State of Florida, the United States, or any local government entity or utility located within Monroe County.
- Any indicia of eligibility for lawful entry issued by Monroe County Emergency Management and approved for current use.
The county requires original documents or a hard-copy paper photocopy of the original. Digital images and photographs of documentation are not accepted.
WLRN's Nancy Klingener spoke with Monroe County Emergency Management Director Shannon Weiner about the checkpoint. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
We're out here 100 miles into the ocean and that linear geography makes it a challenge to get resources in and that includes health care resources. And we have three very, very small hospitals. If we were to have visitors come and go, possibly bringing in and transmitting the disease, it would really put a huge stress on our health care system.
WLRN: Do you think it's working?
Absolutely, I think it's working. When we initially put the checkpoint in we saw the numbers drop from 70 percent of normal traffic flow to down to 40 percent. On the weekend, we're down into the 18-20 percent of our flow. Seventy-three cases over the past two months for our population that's close to 80,000 has really shown that it has slowed the spread.
People pretty quickly came up with the fake hurricane re-entry stickers and then the fake worker placards. I've heard about a few people who own second properties here, like a vacation home, and have been having trouble getting through with documentation. It sounds like the county's being pretty tough on that. Why is that?
I think the more simple and straightforward we can keep it, as far as documentation, the easier it will be for the deputies that are working the checkpoint. Because that is a tough job. They are standing out there all day, in the heat, seeing hundreds and hundreds of vehicles, talking to hundreds of people. Literally being on the front line for us.
Is the county getting any pressure to take the checkpoint down? And if so where is that pressure coming from?
I haven't heard anything like that. Quite frankly, from the community, we have heard a lot of appreciation for the checkpoint. And 'Please don't remove the checkpoint. We think it's working well.' People realize that things are a little quieter, the disease is not as widespread and have definitely expressed their appreciation for it.
Do we know how long it will be there and who's going to make the call to take it down and how?
I can't give you a timeline or a date on how long it will be there. Things that we're looking at when it comes to removing the protective measures that we have in place are being based on the data that we have from the Department of Health, relevant to the number of cases and the spread in our county. We need to see a consistent and regular downward trend in those numbers. And then we need to see the same in Miami-Dade and Broward as well because we all are connected. That checkpoint would be the last if not one of the last things to come down.
Is there a scenario where the checkpoint comes down, then goes back up depending on the number of COVID cases on the mainland or in the Keys?
That is absolutely a scenario that we would not want to put ourselves into. And we are very mindful of that. So we are proceeding with extreme caution because we do not want to begin to phase out preventative measures and then have a spike in numbers and have to go back to the more stringent protective measures. This is something that as we move forward will take time. It's not going to be swift or done in a hurry. It is going to be done very slowly and methodically and based on all of the information and intelligence and the recommendations we can receive from the Department of Health.