Key West closes a beach and two major tourist attractions

Gwen Filosa
·2 min read

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The city of Key West on Tuesday will close three major tourist attractions in response to the White House’s urging people to now avoid groups of 10 or more during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Smathers Beach, the Southernmost Point buoy and the nightly Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square will not be open to the public, City Manager Greg Veliz said on Monday evening.

“We understand that this creates a burden on both our residents and our visitors,” said Veliz.

Veliz said staff made the decision and that more closures could be on the way.

“It’s vital that we work together to protect public safety during this health emergency,” Veliz said. “The sooner these measures are enacted, the quicker we can get back to business as usual.”

A woman aims for a photo of the sunset at Mallory Square on March 16, 2020.
A woman aims for a photo of the sunset at Mallory Square on March 16, 2020.

The Florida Keys have had no reported cases of COVID-19 as of Monday.

The Southernmost Point buoy is an open-air landmark that draws hordes of tourists. They line up to take photos with the giant faux buoy.

How will the city keep people away from it?

“We’re going to barricade it off and I”m going to have patrolmen over there,” Veliz said. “I hope we don’t have people trying to fight police to get a photo next to a concrete buoy.”

These mark the first major closings in the Keys due to the crisis. No restrictions have been placed on restaurants, bars or hotels.

“The closures will be reevaluated on a daily basis,” city spokeswoman Alyson Crean said Monday.

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Crean said the city urges others who facilitate gatherings of 10 or more people to voluntarily create restrictions.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the city commission had scheduled a special meeting at City Hall, 1300 White St., to discuss “protective measures pertaining to COVID-19,” according to the agenda.

The city canceled the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, however, in light of the governor’s statewide closure of bars and clubs.

Clara Taylor works her popcorn concession at Mallory Square on March 16, 2020.
Clara Taylor works her popcorn concession at Mallory Square on March 16, 2020.

Even the meeting’s attendance is of concern to city leaders.

They’re thinking of ways to limit the gathering while still allowing public comment, Crean said.

The city has an “eComment” program available online where people can type in their thoughts on an agenda item.

Also Monday, the city announced it would stop running the free Duval Loop bus, which shuttles tourists and locals alike around various Old Town stops in an effort to curb car congestion.

The city also postponed a slew of upcoming events on its busy calendar. They include the Conch Republic Independence Celebration scheduled for April 17 through 26, and The Taste of Key West set for April 20 at Mallory Square.