The Florida Keys have been shut down for more than two months. On Monday, June 1, the highway checkpoints come down and tourists will once again hit the restaurants, shops and attractions.
But it won’t exactly be the same as before the pandemic. There will be rules to follow.
Here’s what you can and can’t do if you are planning to visit:
What precautions will be in place?
Monroe County requires masks in public. They should be worn while inside a business, working in public, on public transportation and when around people besides immediate family. They can be taken off while eating in restaurants, in personal vehicles and during distanced outdoor activities.
Airplane travelers who come through Key West International Airport from highly affected COVID-19 areas will be screened.
Visitors and locals should follow precautions out of respect for others and to keep the Keys safe, said Elizabeth Moscynski, presdident of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce.
“We need to build the confidence of the visitors and locals,” she said. “The most important factor is ensuring protocols for hygiene, cleanliness, social distancing and personal protection.”
Will the checkpoints still be up?
No. The checkpoints that were restricting island access to residents and workers only will be removed.
Where can visitors stay?
Hotels, motels and vacation rentals will reopen Monday, June 1, according to Monroe County guidelines for property owners, with 50% occupancy recommendations. Guests and employees must follow CDC guidelines, and face-to-face interactions such as check-in and check-out will be limited.
Cleaning and housekeeping regulations have changed to increase sanitation and decrease exposure.
Short-term vacation and rental reservations are open to visitors from areas that have COVID-19 case rates less than 700 cases per 100 thousand residents. Visitors from hot spot areas are to be avoided for about a month. International travelers cannot make reservations.
The Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West can be reached at 305-296-4959 and [email protected] to find out which hotels are open.
What are the dining options?
Florida Keys restaurants can operate at 50% capacity indoors. Outdoor capacity will not be limited, but tables must be six feet apart and seat no more than 10 people. Restaurants have been open to locals since May 4.
Lynn Bell, owner of the Square Grouper restaurant on Islamorada, said she has some concerns about reopening, but is happy that tourism will return to the islands. She said that local customers have been receptive to the safety changes in the past month.
“As long as everybody is aware of the rules and abides by them, we’re thrilled to have everybody back,” she said . “Hopefully things will remain the same — there won’t be a spike — and our lives can go on.”
Are bars open?
Bars remain closed, as per Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order.
What attractions can you visit?
Group attractions are limited to 10 people and all must follow CDC guidelines. Seating at pools and beaches must have six feet of separation between groups.
Physical distancing is advised in all spaces such as queues and lobbies with foot traffic in one direction.
Here are some attractions that will be open to tourists:
Southernmost Point monument, Key West
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Fury Water Adventures Key West
Danger Charters, Key West
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West. Beach, fort and trails are open for day activities. Café is closed, and restaurant availability may be limited.
The Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West. Will open Tuesday.
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, Marathon
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
Dolphins Plus, Key Largo
Theater of the Sea, Islamorada
Robbie’s of Islamorada
Dolphin Research Center, Grass Key
Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key. Beach and trails are open for day activities. Concession is closed, and restaurant availability may be limited.
Some attractions such as ferries and seaplanes to Dry Tortugas National Park remain suspended. The Naval Air Station in Key West is closed to recreational visitors.
What about the conch train and the tour trolleys?
The Key West Conch Tour Train will reopen Thursday, a few days after the Keys reopen to tourists. The Key West Old Town Trolley Tours will resume its 13-stop hop-on hop-off tour on Thursday as well.
Car rental companies nationwide are still providing services.
Where can you go if you get sick?
The Florida Keys has three hospitals: Mariners Hospital located in Tavernier, Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon, and Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West.
Scott Atwell, CEO of the Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce, said the hospitals have tests available if guests are suspected of having the coronavirus.
The islands are getting ready for their “new normal” and will have precautions in place for several months until a vaccine comes out, he said. Success will come with the collaboration of businesses and residents in being responsible.
“It’s good that we’re ramping up to this slowly and not turning on the faucet all at once,” he said. “Our staffs are able to learn these new procedures and everybody’s going to be able to get comfortable doing the best that they can.”