As of this morning, Key West and the Florida Keys have no reported cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus being passed around the globe and scaring the smarts out of usually rational folks.
There is, however, an abundance of the customary winter plague called the Key West Crud, which mimics the symptoms of the latest coronavirus, is likely caused by a member of the coronavirus family and is ubiquitous so we do little about it except complain and cough into our elbows.
The odds are the novel coronavirus will make its Key West debut shortly and since COVID-19’s got our attention, let’s go with that. We can do Key West Crud some other time. Here’s what I know, what I don’t know and what I think I know when it comes to this novel coronavirus in Key West.
What I know, don’t know and think I know:
We are open and going about our business, though I’m hearing from friends — and seeing around town — that things aren’t quite as busy as they usually are this time of season. No events have been canceled; planes and ships arrive on schedule, though perhaps not quite as full as they were. There are empty parking spaces in downtown; not many, but noticeable. There are cracks in our normal.
The assorted governmental agencies — local, county and state — are tying in with the Florida Department of Health with the customary wash your hands etc., prevention. Remember, we face off with the vagaries of hurricanes every season, so the Keys and Key West are not strangers to disaster preparation. WLRN’s Nancy Klingener did a recent roundup of local preparations.
My local social media news feeds are increasingly filled with a handful of frightened folks pushing for closing the Port of Key West to cruise ships. They’re being joined by the ever-present “get rid of the tourists and bring back Key West of my memories” people. Chiming in, too, are the conspiracy theorists who are convinced local government and its leaders are incompetent, corrupt and greedy.
Look, friends, I get it. All the unknowns; the conflicting and shifting information; that can make us fearful. We should expect the city and the county keep us updated on the latest news and information concerning COVID-19 in Key West and Monroe County — even if it’s a “nothing new today” comment. Silence guarantees the cynical rush to fill it.
But we ought not be using the advent of COVID-19 for a political or fear-fueled agenda.
Key West depends on its visitors to pay the rent. In one way or another, every dime spent on this island ties back to the tourism economy. With perhaps the exception of folks with a financial portfolio gathered elsewhere, the rest of the island’s residents and workforce depend on off-island folks to pay the bills.
If you’re among those asking for Key West to close its doors to visitors, I’d be all in with you IF you can show me how we will sustain, protect and support the island’s families and workforce, likely for months. Because there are consequences from your bar-the-door demands for a whole bunch of my friends who depend on the tourism economy to pay the rent and whose access to healthcare and paid time off is nil.
Our island’s families and employees are facing the potential of a quadruple convergence whammy to their paychecks:
- High season is drawing to a close. Snowbirds are packing up and heading home. It feels a bit early, but two snowbird couples told me Sunday they were leaving earlier than usual because, well, they were concerned about getting quarantined.
- The Cow Key Bridge construction, which begins March 16, will slow drive times onto and off the island exponentially. We’re facing upwards of nine months of lane closures on the only bridge connecting us to the rest of the world.
- Hurricane season starts June 1. OK, that’s every year, but it’s coming. God forbid it’s like 2017.
- And as sure as the iguanas eat my flowers, COVID-19 is going to appear in Key West and that’ll bring with it closures, cancellations and quarantines. (I’m personally hoping that like most other coronaviruses, this one dies its natural death from our abundance of hot, humid, sunshiny weather.)
Be aware. Be prepared. Wash your hands. But, let’s not make our irrational fears a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, I’m asking: What will I do to help my neighbors, friends and acquaintances cope?
We can start with this: Tip biggest. Just like after a hurricane. Donate to the food pantries, homeless shelters, food kitchens and the social service organizations like United Way and Sister Season, whose resources go to work locally after a disaster.
Key West has disaster recovery in its DNA. We’ll figure this mess out. Wash your hands — and drop a dollar into the “help” jar every time you do.
Helpful links: These are the COVID-19 news and information sources I keep bookmarked: