The coronavirus pandemic is keeping billions of people around the world stuck in their homes and is changing the very face of many popular destinations. In Paris, it means no more museums. In Orlando, no more Disney. And in the Florida Keys, where businesses should be enjoying the tail end of the crowded winter season, it means no more tourists–as in none- since police set up checkpoints on the only two roads that lead to the islands.
The checkpoints on U.S. 1 and County Road 905 are manned by the Monroe County Sheriff’s office. Only those who live on the islands or can prove they work there are allowed to pass. The idea is to keep tourists out.
This is a strange development in a region that counts on tourism for its economy. From hotels to restaurants, countless businesses depend on the throngs of tourists descending from the Florida mainland. In the age of the coronavirus, however, the safety of those who call the Keys home has to come first.
As of Friday, March 27, there were only sixteen confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Florida Keys. The mainland, meanwhile, has more than two thousand cases statewide. This has prompted local officials to take action.
Hotels and vacation rentals had already been shuttered the week before, with county officials recognizing that the tourist industry would have to lie dormant in order to enforce social distancing measures and defeat the virus. The local authorities asked tourists to leave. The installation of the checkpoints is the next step in the process.
At this time of year, hotels, bars, and restaurants would normally be teeming with vacationers up and down the Florida Keys. The sudden lack of business is of course a major economic hit. Many in the tourism industry are dismayed at the current situation, but take solace in the fact that before the epidemic it had been an especially busy winter season.
Many restaurants remain open, but only for take-out and delivery. This has forced them to send many employees home, which will have a ripple effect throughout the economies of the island communities. Still, many in the Keys see remain optimistic, awaiting further developments and seeing brighter days ahead.