Monroe County officials said Monday that they may soon have to make difficult, yet unspecified, decisions as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in the Florida Keys.
However, the county’s top health official said there may not be much more that can be done to stop the virus from spreading though the island chain, especially since cases are also spiking in Miami-Dade County, which has been a hot spot for the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. in March
“Unfortunately, we may be at the point where we might have to start living with the virus,” Bob Eadie, Monroe County administrator of the Florida Department of Health, said during an emergency management conference call meeting Monday.
“If Miami continues to surge, there’s only so much that the county can do to hold off the spread,” Eadie said.
And, so far, there are no plans to re-erect the two checkpoints that kept tourists — and increased cases of the virus — out of the island chain from late March through June 1.
“This is difficult stuff. This is really difficult stuff,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi told colleagues during the conference call. “It’s not rocket science. It’s more difficult than rocket science.”
From Sunday to Monday, the Florida Department of Health confirmed 13 more cases of the novel coronavirus in the Keys, bringing the total official number to 380. Five people have died from the virus in the archipelago, and as of Monday, seven people are being treated for it in the Keys’ three hospitals.
Miami-Dade has the highest death rate from the virus in the state — 1,051 and 48,992 confirmed cases. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giminez issued an emergency order Monday re-closing restaurant dining rooms, gyms and vacation rentals.
Monroe Mayor Heather Carruthers said during the meeting that the recent rise in cases in the Keys is likely a result of not immediately mandating masks be worn in public places. She added that people “are unpredictable and sometimes unmanageable.”
Monroe issued a face-covering mandate in late June. Keys leaders have said repeatedly that issuing more drastic measures will depend on hospitalization rates.
“We’re going to have to have some tough conversations about what kinds of procedures we put in place,” Carruthers said Monday.
So far, Mariners Hospital, Fishermen’s Hospital and Lower Keys Medical Center are able to treat the COVID-19 cases they have. But officials worry that Miami-Dade hospitals are filling up too fast to handle any overflow cases the Keys may have in the future that need to be transferred out of the county.
A Baptist Health official on the conference call said Homestead Hospital now has 58 COVID patients, South Miami Hospital has 61 and Baptist’s main campus in Kendall is treating 122 people with the virus.
“Their numbers are horrendous too as far as new cases,” Eadie said.
As of now, however, Keys hospitals are not nearing capacity. Baptists’ two Keys hospitals — Mariners and Fishermen’s — have 25 available beds, according to the hospital official who spoke on the call.
And Eadie said Lower Keys Medical Center, which on Monday had four COVID-19 patients, is licensed for 120 beds, but currently staffed to handle 80.