Yes, the Florida Keys & Key West is open to visitors, but the novel coronavirus remains a reality. If you’re traveling to the Keys, there are simple precautions recommended for all visitors arriving from areas outside the Keys as well as for residents of the island chain. Officials are encouraging voluntary public health measures and personal responsibilities for visitors and residents.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), encourages each individual to continue to practice the basics: good hygiene such as frequent hand washing, engaging in healthy activities including outdoor recreation, eating healthy foods, practicing social distancing and wearing a facial covering when in public.
Plan ahead and come prepared. Bring facial coverings, hand sanitizer, reef-safe sunscreen and personal essential medicines. If you’re feeling unwell, please stay home, call your physician and get advice. You have the personal responsibility to protect yourself and others.
At both Key West International Airport and Florida Keys Marathon International Airport, health screenings are discontinued, except for passengers traveling on nonstop flights from designated COVID-19 hotspot states, per the Florida governor’s executive order. Each person screened is required to isolate or quarantine for a period of 14 days or the duration of that person’s stay in the county, whichever is shorter.
Personal Protective Actions While on Vacation
Monroe County officials are “encouraging” people to wear facial coverings and follow other Centers for Disease Control protective protocols in public areas and indoor places. Wear a face mask or facial cloth covering when entering a business such as a lodging facility, restaurant, grocery store, pharmacy, indoor attraction or museum, retail or clothing shop, beauty salon or health spa. Or in outside areas where there are many people. In some municipalities, such as in Key West, wearing facial coverings inside a business is a required local government directive.
Coverings over the nose and mouth may include a face mask, homemade or purchased from a drug store, or a cloth scarf, bandana, handkerchief, gaiter or buff. Dr. Mark Whiteside, medical director of the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, advised that wearing a simple surgical-type mask or facial covering is fine, especially when it’s done in conjunction with social distancing.
Wearing a face covering does not eliminate the need for social distancing and proper hand hygiene.
Frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Carry and use hand sanitizer with at least a 60 percent alcohol base if soap and water are not available.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue and properly dispose of the tissue as well as face mask, gloves and other protective apparel.
Stay hydrated and well-rested, especially during warm summer months in the Florida Keys.
Social Gatherings and Distancing
It is recommended to avoid socializing in large groups. Maximize physical distance from others, particularly in closed environments, maintaining at least 6 feet between people. COVID-19 is most transmissible indoors under close, sustained contact.
An advantage of the Florida Keys is that the 125-mile-long island chain has many wide-open spaces. The Keys offer a great opportunity to take advantage of outdoor activities and the natural beauty of sea and sky.
Florida Keys hotels, resorts and other lodging establishments are implementing American Hotel & Lodging Association COVID-19 guidelines for enhanced, best-practice health, cleanliness and safety. Check websites of your hotels and other lodging facilities to learn what safety measures are in effect, and what amenities are open and available, such as hotel pools.
Lodging staff are paying special attention to the disinfecting of visitor accommodations.
Lodging staff are paying special attention to the disinfecting of visitor accommodations.
Licensed vacation rental properties are also to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between rentals, in accordance with these standards. Contactless check-in and payment processes are being emphasized.
Hotel staff and guests are recommended to wear a mask or cloth face covering that covers the nose and mouth in public areas such as lobbies and indoor common areas.
Self-parking is encouraged. If valet service is provided, disinfecting of any contact points within the vehicle will be required. Van and shuttle services may be limited or not offered. Many lodging facilities are suspending daily housekeeping services.
Restaurants and food establishments are currently operating at 50 percent capacity, with appropriate social distancing and a minimum of 6 feet separating parties.
Inquire whether restaurant menus are online or viewable on a personal device, or are single use and disposable versus laminated, reusable menus.
Outdoor dining areas should be prioritized and requested.
Waiting areas may be limited to manage spacing, depending upon the eatery’s size, so waiting outdoors is preferable when possible. Inside, guests are recommended to wear masks or face coverings that cover the mouth and nose except when actually dining.
Bars and pubs have reopened to full capacity outdoors with social distancing, and at 50 percent capacity indoors, with bar-top seating and seated service only (no standing room).
Recreation: Parks, Attractions, Museums, Watersports and Beaches
Community parks and other outdoor recreational facilities are open in the Florida Keys. Check with the tourism facility or charter operator in advance to learn if all areas or services are open, such as bathrooms and concessions. Capacity limits are to be in place, as are contactless protocols such as electronic safety waivers for watersports, diving, snorkeling, fishing charters and boat tours.
State parks are open for daytime use, and some limited camping. Park visitors may not have access to certain amenities, such as restroom facilities, pavilions, picnic areas and campsites, due to area closures or staff and visitor safety considerations.
Public beaches are open in the Florida Keys from sunrise to dusk.
Dry Tortugas National Park is open, and seaplane and ferry service have resumed. Camping, restrooms and recreational boating are also permitted. Entrance fees do apply. At Everglades National Park, visitor centers remain closed, although camping is reopening.
Public beaches in the Florida Keys are open from dawn to dusk with limited amenities. Pavilions, barbecues and playgrounds may be inaccessible. It is suggested that groups of people maintain a 6-foot distance between groups during beach access, for the comfort of all beach goers.
Refrain from using touch screens or interactive exhibits at museums, attractions, visitor centers and public gardens.
Retail Shops, Gyms, Fitness Centers and Other Keys Businesses
Customers should not handle or try on merchandise, particularly clothing. Return items to store staff for proper replacement on shelves. Heed markings and signage that an establishment such as a retail store, grocery store or pharmacy displays for customers within the premises to help with social distancing.
Most gyms, yoga and dance studios and fitness centers are open and as of June 5, are to operate at full capacity. Social distancing and sanitizing practices must be observed. Facial coverings do not need to be worn while working out as long as there is a minimum of 6 feet of distance between people, but are suggested to be worn while entering, checking in, checking out and exiting.
Different Regions of the Keys
Some municipalities in the Keys are taking additional precautions. Some businesses in Key West, for example, are being asked to to take no-touch temperatures when individuals enter. In Key West, wearing facial coverings inside a business is a required local government directive.
What if I Feel Ill While Traveling in the Keys
If you believe you have any symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical counsel immediately. Google “Florida Keys doctors” on your smartphone, call the front desk of your lodging property or contact a hospital emergency room at Mariners Hospital in the Upper Keys (305-434-3600), Fisherman’s Hospital in the Middle Keys (305-743-5533) or Lower Keys Medical Center (305-294-5531). Remain quarantined in your hotel room until you receive medical advice, and notify the front desk of your situation. For even more serious medical emergencies, dial 9-1-1.
Proper Disposal of Protective Items
Used masks, gloves and other personal items should be properly discarded in waste containers. Do not discard them on tables, on the floor or ground, or along a roadway.
Respect Others and Have a Great Time
Visitors to the Florida Keys are strongly encouraged to be mindful of personal space, respect the new local regulations and practices, wear face coverings in public and continue to take other measures to protect their health and that of their traveling companions.
The Florida Keys tourism industry wants you to remain happy and healthy throughout your stay, and go back home as healthy or healthier, and hopefully even happier, than when you arrived.
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(Main Photo: Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau)