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Key West Prepping For Coronavirus Like It's A Hurricane — That's Still Far Away

More than 100,000 people visited Key West by cruise ship in February. The city says it's the Coast Guard's call on whether to close the port.
Nancy Klingener
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Key West is a small town with about 25,000 residents — but it receives many times its population in visitors from all over the world. So the city is getting ready for possible cases of the illness caused by the coronavirus.

City Manager Greg Veliz told city commissioners that paramedics will take precautions with anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19. That means that anyone presenting symptoms of the disease will be asked questions and if they are determined to be in a high-risk group, the paramedics will wear extra safety gear and protect the inside of the ambulance.

Lower Keys Medical Center, the only area hospital, has asked that anyone who has those symptoms call before coming over, so they can be met outside and evaluated, Veliz said.

He said the medical center has seven isolation rooms — and a Plan B.

"If in fact they have an influx of multiple people outgrowing the capacity of the hospital, there is an agreement in place with the Navy in which the Navy will come in, set up a quarantine tent, for lack of a better term, and they will help staff that," he said.

Mayor Teri Johnston says the city is viewing the epidemic like a hurricane that's too far away to know whether it will hit.

"We're a prepared community," she said. "Just like a hurricane, get prepared and hope it passes."

More than 100,000 people visited Key West by cruise ship in February. Now, some residents are calling on the city to turn cruise ships away. But city officials say they have no control over closing the port — and that it's up to the Coast Guard to make that call.

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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.