The Florida Keys will be open to everyone again starting on June 1. That's when Monroe County plans to take down its checkpoint at the county line and allow hotels to reopen.
You turn to WLRN for reporting you can trust and stories that move our South Florida community forward. Your support makes it possible. Please donate now. Thank you.
For almost two months, Keys hotels and vacation rentals have been closed and only people who live, work or own property in the Keys have been allowed past checkpoints at the county line on U.S. 1 and Card Sound Road.
Everyone who arrives by air in the Keys is screened and required to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Hotels will be allowed to reopen, at 50 percent occupancy. The county is working on a request to the state to allow vacation rentals to reopen and screenings will stop at the airport.
The Keys closed itself off to outsiders in an effort to protect the local population — with a limited hospital capacity — from infection, especially as neighboring Miami-Dade County led the state in infections and deaths from COVID-19.
Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers said Monday that the checkpoint has been successful in keeping COVID cases low — but that it has had other impacts.
"Clearly there's a lot of pressure for things to start moving again as our economy is starting to falter," she said. "I think the message is, people should not let down their guard and think that this means the virus is over because it's not. It's just that now we have to make sure that we always have our protective measures in place so that we can live with it."
There have been 100 reported cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County and three deaths as of May 17. Bob Eadie, administrator for the state Department of Health in Monroe County, said there have been no hospitalizations in weeks.
"From the public health standpoint, it seems as if we have the virus in check for Monroe County. Obviously our concern is going to be with the influx of individuals from outside Monroe County," he said. "But, you know, we can't live in a bubble forever."
Eadie said that of about 200 antibody tests given in the Keys, only people who had previously tested positive for COVID have tested positive for the antibodies.
Hotels must follow guidelines for cleaning and other measures from the American Hotel and Lodging Association and everyone will have to follow county rules, like wearing masks in public places.
Diane Schmidt, general manager of the Margaritaville Resort in Key West, praised the county's efforts so far in a press release put out by the Tourist Development Council. That county agency uses lodging taxes to promote the Keys as a destination. Schmidt serves on the board, which advises the County Commission on how to spend the money.
With so much of the county's economy based on tourism, "it's critical to get back to work and get people having something to look forward to and normalize. Obviously with changes to our operations," Schmidt said. "The priority will always be safety first, hospitality second."