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There are no plans to close Monroe County or to limit the amount of people entering the Florida Keys as officials try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, the island chain’s top law enforcement officer said Monday.
“It would be manpower intensive, and it’s not realistic,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay, who added that he also does not see the need for such extreme measures in the Keys.
“Don’t panic,” he said. “We’re going to get through this.”
As of Monday, there were no reported cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County, but Ramsay expects that will likely soon change. The first confirmed case in Florida was March 1, and the first in Miami-Dade County was confirmed March 11.
“We’re two weeks behind the curve, but it’s going to happen, and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.
Professionally, Ramsay said one of the biggest challenges his office faces is keeping his staff healthy, as well as inmates in county jail.
“We’re practicing social distancing externally as well as internally,” he said.
Medical staff are checking the temperatures of all new inmates, and they’re also checking to see if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Anyone with symptoms is sent to the hospital for further testing, Ramsay said.
On Friday, the jail confirmed it had ended all programs for inmates that require volunteers to come in from the outside. These include meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, a yoga program and a program on fatherhood, as well as outside clergy programs.
“However, we are operating our jail in-house GED program for the time being,” said sheriff’s office spokesman Adam Linhardt.
The jail banned in-person visits in 2016 and installed a video visitation program.
The city of Key West on Monday morning announced an immediate hiring freeze on city jobs and the shutdown of the free downtown bus service called the Duval Loop, which shuttles tourists and locals to various Old Town stops in an effort to reduce car traffic.
The Duval Loop will stop running Tuesday, said city spokeswoman Alyson Crean.
City Manager Greg Veliz plans to make a statement following Vice President Mike Pence’s news conference Monday afternoon, she said.
But no sweeping, citywide decisions had been announced by Monday afternoon.
City leaders Monday were planning to make any major closures at a special City Commission meeting set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1300 White St.
The only agenda item is “Protective measures pertaining to COVID-19.”
Other shutdowns include:
* The Wednesday meeting of the Board of County Commissioners in Key Largo has been rescheduled for April 15 and will take place at the Marathon Government Center.
▪ The Key West Theater, which brings country and rock starts to Key West, said Monday it would postpone all shows at least through March.
The venue already had decided to put off the April 4 show with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin, set for the Sunset Green Lawn off North Roosevelt Boulevard. Ticket holders were notified.
The nonprofit arts theater, the Tropic Cinema closed its doors over the weekend due to the pandemic and the Tennessee Williams Theatre on the campus of the College of the Florida Keys has suspended shows through at least April 6.
“With very few exceptions, all are delayed and not canceled,” the theater posted on Facebook.
▪ Comedy Key West, a comedy club set at the Bottlecap bar, also suspended its shows until further notice.
▪ The Key West Artisan Market, held on Sundays, was forced to cancel its March 22 event due to the county’s emergency declaration that bars gatherings of 50 people or more on county property. The market is held at Higgs Beach.
▪ The Key West Art and Historical Society will close all four of its museums — Fort East Martello, the Key West Lighthouse, Tennessee Williams Museum and Custom House Museum — to the public Tuesday until April 1.
“We look forward to welcoming you back when our institutions reopen,” the nonprofit posted on Facebook. “Please stay healthy and safe.”
The city of Key West on Monday afternoon canceled the following events:
▪The Florida Keys Festival set for March 28 at the Truman Waterfront Park.
▪The Bahama Village Music Program set for March 29 at the Coffee Butler Amphitheater.
▪The Conch Republic Independence Celebration scheduled for the week of April 17 through 26.
▪ The Taste of Key West set for April 20 at Mallory Square.
▪The Commotion by the Ocean, set for April 18 at the Truman Waterfront.
▪ The Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade set for April 4.
▪ In the Village of Islamorada, several big events have been canceled, including Island Fest (March 27-28), Spring Fest and Egg Hunt (April 11) and the Bunko and Lunch (March 23). The ICE Bay Jam, scheduled for April 5, has been postponed, Mary Swaney, the village’s public information officer, said Monday.
▪ The March 26 Village Council’s regularly scheduled meeting is still planned. However, the village is encouraging people who want to submit applications and payments to the village to use the CityView portal.
▪ Monroe County election officials also said that Tuesday’s primary election is still on as planned.
▪ Over the weekend, the Original Marathon Seafood Festival, billed as the Keys’ second-largest public event, was held, despite worries from some that holding such a large gathering was a public health risk. Organizers said they made the decision to proceed after reassurances from public health officials.
The event, in its 44th year, usually attracts up to 20,000 people, but attendance this year was down, as organizers say was anticipated.
“It was probably off 30 to 44 percent,” said Dan Samess, chief executive officer of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce. “All considering, it was a good event, all had a great time and appreciated that it was held, as well as all the sanitizing and hand washing stations.”