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Key West Protesters Call For Reopening Of Island Chain To The Outside World

Chris Garcia runs a fleet of five charter fishing boats in Key West.
Nancy Klingener
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Monroe County is officially closed to visitors, with a checkpoint at the county line turning people away. Some in Key West say it's time to open up to the outside world again.

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Historic Tours of America has 350 employees in Key West running Conch Trains and trolleys and operating attractions like the Key West Aquarium. Ed Swift is the company's president. He led a protest Tuesday at a busy Key West intersection calling on the county to allow hotels to open and remove the checkpoint.

"It's time. It's time. Our people need to work," he said. "They need the money for their families."

Tourism provides about 44 percent of jobs in the Keys. The protest was held near Key West Charterboat Row and the industry was well represented. Chris Garcia runs a fleet of five charter boats. 

Ed Swift, president of Historic Tours of America, led the protest.
Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN News
The Florida Channel
Ed Swift, president of Historic Tours of America, led the protest.

"Last April we did 260 charters between our five boats. This April we've done zero. And same for May," he said. "We just feel like we need to try to safely open up. And there's ways of doing that."

Bonnie Bowik works for Hooked Up Charters.

"We just want to fish. We want them to open the hotels so people can come in, fly in, they don't have to open the border but let 'em fly in so we can all get a little bit of work, maybe not a lot right away but we need to get started," she said. "Because we have no income."

Monroe County has announced that it plans to remain closed to visitors at least through the end of the month. Officials say they worry that too many cases of COVID-19 would overwhelm the local health care system — especially with Miami-Dade, right above the island chain, leading the state in the number of cases of COVID-19 and in the number of deaths.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.