Sigh. I am getting way too good at this. For the third time in two months, I am hunkered down in the house because I’m in the one-degree-of-separation zone. That means I came in contact with someone who came in contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19. Everyone along the immediate contact chain was doing the mask-wash-distance-stay-outside dance, but clearly someone a couple steps removed was not. Odds are in my favor, of course, because we were taking seriously those precautions, but, still, all it takes is one positive to roll through the extended chain, sending folks into self-imposed lock down or, heaven forbid, the hospital.
The novel coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, is chewing its way through Key West’s 25,000 or so permanent residents. Not a day goes by that a friend, coworker, family member or, what I’d call “local celebrity” doesn’t make it into the hyper-aware social media posts. In a town this small, where we live cheek-by-jowl in tiny spaces, where your best friend is a bartender and your neighbor’s kids play sports, there’s no surprise at the rampant community spread.
Most locals are doing their best to maintain protocols and wear masks, which is good news. But there are a boatload of locals who loudly and proudly call the virus a hoax, refuse to wear masks and flash the three-finger salute at attempts to enforce the local mandates. Those folks I can stay away from. The locals who bug me are the ones who publicly appear to support doing the right things, right down to news releases about “being in this together; wear a mask, etc.,” and then throw potential super-spreader events packed with other locals sans masks, sans distance and with plenty of hollering and hugging. As small as this island is, few of us are going to be more than a degree or two separated from someone who’s been at one of those things.
Which brings me to you. If you’re planning on coming to Key West, these folks, their friends and many of their acquaintances are going to be your bartenders, servers, entertainers, sales persons, cops, front desk rep, house cleaner. You get the picture, right? Here you are spending a ton of money to escape to Key West thinking it’s way safer than where you’re coming from only to run flat out into a Covid-19 hot spot. You might not have been sick when you arrived, but if you’re not careful, you will be by the time you get home — and that’s just for the short stays.
Coming down for the season? Isolating in Key West is, hands down, better than isolating where temps fall to freezing. But Key West is not a lick safer than, say, South Dakota. If you let your guard down and if you get sick, you’re calling on our already hard-pressed health care systems. We can handle our own, maybe, sort of, for now anyway. But as our population increases with seasonal visitors, and as they get sick, which they will, of course, those resources and the dedicated staffers are spread too thinly. By the way, medical flights to Miami are not for those without deep pockets and even the Miami hospitals are being pushed.
If I could, I’d tell you to stay the heck home. Then I’d supplement every income that’s dependent on tourism, which is most everyone. But, I know you’re coming. I know you think you’re going to do all the right things and you’ll be safe. You just want a hogfish taco and some beach time at Fort Zach, with maybe a great meal at your favorite restaurant following all the protocols. Well, good on you; that’s exactly how I felt this week and now I am in another self-imposed lock down.
Since you’ll come anyway, at least keep this in mind: It is not safe. Wear a really good mask all the time and stay out of any store, sunset cruise or water sports, bar or restaurant where servers or customers are wandering around without masks, standing at the bar drinking or gathering in groups. If they’re less than six feet apart, depart. If that mask-less server has Covid-19, and she or her roommate might, you are at risk. At this stage of Key West Covid-19, I’m personally more concerned about contracting the virus from a local than from a tourist. If you’re the tourist, you get a double dose: from sick locals AND sick tourists.
As for me, I’m isolating and wearing my mask while cooking for Thanksgiving. Making to-go plates for friends. I’ll look forward to next Wednesday’s end of isolation. Until the next one. Next year, I’m throwing a hooting, hollering, no-mask party on the porch.