Southernmost Point Continental USA at Key West, Florida. The picture shows the famous landmark of the southernmost point of the USA. Photo and Caption: Dennis Kartenkaemper
On June 1st the Florida Keys reopened to visitors after access was denied to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. Checkpoints leading into the Florida Keys came down early Monday, two months after being set up to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The checkpoints were put into place on March 22 to keep out tourists from entering the chain of islands. More than 18,750 cars coming from the mainland were turned away because drivers did not present the proper paperwork that showed they either worked or lived in the Florida Keys.
Roadblocks were taken down shortly after midnight near Key Largo, the northernmost island in the chain. Almost half of all workers in the Keys are employed by hotels, bars and other hospitality industries, and many of the rest are involved in commercial and sport fishing.
The roadblocks on U.S.1 went up on March 27. U.S.1 is the only road in or out of the Keys and is also known as the Overseas Highway.
Airports in Key West and Marathon were open, but passengers were being screened and told to self-quarantine for 14 days. Local officials revealed arriving passenger screenings at Key West International and Florida Keys Marathon International airports will be suspended. The decisions were made as the number of coronavirus cases in surrounding counties has been dramatically reduced.
The Keys have been relatively unscathed by the coronavirus. As of Sunday, the Keys had 100 confirmed positive cases of the disease, three deaths and 12 hospitalizations. The total cases so far stand at around 80,000.
A Monroe County Public Works employee loads traffic cones onto a truck as a checkpoint at the top of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway is dismantled Sunday, May 31, 2020, near Key Largo, Fla. The checkpoint was established March 27, 2020, to close the Keys to visitors in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Florida Keys are to officially reopen to visitors Monday, June 1. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO) (Florida Keys News Bureau) Photo and Caption: www.local10.com
One of the major tourist attractions in Key West is the Ernest Hemingway house. Jacque Sands, general manager of the home, said it and its 59 cats will be open for business Tuesday, June 2. Many of the cats have six toes, unique descendants of a feline named Snow White given to Hemingway by a ship’s captain, according to the home’s website.
Locals and local businesses alike are well aware, however, that many people are hesitant to resume travel anywhere due to the ongoing pandemic. The lack of tourism is financially devastating many businesses in the travel industry, so many destinations such as the Keys have decided to cautiously reopen to visitors.
Hotels, restaurants and stores will continue to enforce social distancing to both employees and guests and have updated their cleaning procedures and disinfecting measures to ensure that COVID-19 will not spread. Visitors will also be expected to continue to wear face masks.
Occupancy in these establishments will be limited to 50 percent of the standard numbers during the first phase of reopening. Officials will meet later in June regarding revisions to occupancy restrictions.
Fortunately, for many travelers to the Keys activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving allow them to follow safety guidelines.
Colorful coral with blue water background and sun rays shining through the surface in Key Largo, Florida. Photo and Caption: Off Axis Production/Shutterstock.com
While the tourism industry is preparing to reopen, Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers said businesses would have to be ready for a “new normal,” such as increased cleaning protocols, social distancing guidelines and mandatory face coverings for all visitors and employees.
The safety initiatives were developed with input from the Florida Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and the American Hotel and Lodging Association. County officials said they would enforce all health guidelines.
Come see the wild and marine life down in the Florida Keys. Photo: www.monroecounty-fl.gov
The Monroe County Tourist Development Council made clear on its website that visitors must adhere to health guidelines related to the coronavirus. For information, please visit the Florida Keys & Key West website to learn about coronavirus travel tips and guidelines.