Florida Keys now requires masks, bar owners reeling over shutdown

KEY LARGO, Fla. – Bars in Monroe County had re-opened recently after a shutdown on March 17 because of COVID-19. Now they are closing again after an announcement by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation that it was suspending on-premise consumption of alcohol at bars statewide.

Monroe County bars reopened June 5, the day Governor Ron DeSantis issued an OK to reopen establishments that served alcohol in the state except for Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties because of the high concentration of COVID-19 cases in those areas.

Key Largo’s historic and family-run Caribbean Club owners were stunned by the short tweet from FDBPA issued Friday. Katie Schweiss, whose family has run Caribbean Club since 1962, said government shouldn't be run by a "tweet."

“It is not necessarily that we disagree; we are all about following the rules. We want to do what is right for our community, but it would have been nice to have heads up. We’ve already lost so much money it’s scary,” Schweiss said, adding that they had just recently restocked for the weekend.

The state’s toggle-back happened Friday as coronavirus cases surged in Florida.

The order from the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation went into effect immediately on Friday.

In Monroe County, COVID-19 cases have nearly doubled since opening to visitors on June 1. Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers explained that they do not have the same hospital capacity as bigger counties like Miami-Dade and Broward.

“When they start putting people in the hospital, that is when we get concerned. We are a rural community, three small hospitals, one of them is still being built after hurricane Irma,” Carruthers said.

In Key West Friday, commissioners voted to cancel their Fourth of July fireworks display and approved a new face-covering enforcement. Face coverings are required indoors and outdoors when you can’t socially distance. After the first warning, you could receive a $500 fine.

(see the ordinance about face coverings in Key West)

"We have no room for error. We have no room capacity-wise for any kind of even a mini surge," said Bruce Boros, M.D., a cardiology specialist in Key West.

So what is the next step if we can't stop the community spread and bring hospitalization rates down?

Carruthers said that the county would start closing facilities.

“Close our beaches, close our parks, talk about vacation rental restrictions again, nothing can be off the table but none of those are steps we want it take,” she said.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."