Business owner Michael Halpern speaks out against the proposed curfew during the November 10th commission meeting. LANCE HILL / Keys Weekly

K.Ey West officials considered a planned curfew that would have forced bars and restaurants to close from midnight to 7 a.m., but ultimately withdrew

Instead, the city commission agreed to work more closely with local bars and restaurants to improve the enforcement of masks, hand washing and social distancing, while also sending out a welcoming message to visitors.

More than 120 people attended the November 10th city commission meeting through Zoom, and none supported the midnight curfew for bars and restaurants, which can currently stay open until 4 a.m.

After the withdrawal, Mayor Teri Johnston requested a COVID update at each meeting and confirmed repeated suggestion by members of the public that officials regularly consult representatives of the bar and restaurant industry.

“We have repeat offenders and I think we need some of the others in the industry who are doing things right to speak out and tell some of these others that they could ruin it for everyone else,” said Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover .

During the special meeting, Commissioner Jimmy Weekley showed photographic samples he and other officials received from affected residents to illustrate concerns about the coronavirus. CONTRIBUTION

Dr. Jack Norris, chief of staff at Lower Keys Medical Center, admitted that there is no specific scientific basis for closing bars and restaurants and banning alcohol sales between midnight and 7 a.m., as officials at the special meeting considered.

“Madame Mayor, if any person in this meeting thought a curfew would limit COVID, there is no person in this room who would not support it,” business owner Michael Halpern told city commissioners. “But highlighting the bar and restaurant industry is hugely unfair. We must treat all companies equally and respect COVID. It has no respect for time. It respects masks and social distancing. “

Mayor Teri Johnston said she anticipated opposition from the business community and repeatedly asked each of the 20 or so speakers for suggestions on how the city and its businesses could be part of the solution.

“How do we get people to wear masks and follow our rules for masks, hand washing, and social distancing?” Asked Johnston.

Scott Atwell, executive vice president of the Key West Chamber, reminded officials that chamber staff are answering calls from people inquiring about a Key West vacation.

“If we have to say that Key West closes at midnight, it affects everyone. It doesn’t send a very welcoming message, ”Atwell said. “This will affect everyone exponentially in what is already a slow time. We in the chamber are ready to help by using our large social network to convey our message of welcoming the people of Key West and asking them to abide by our rules. But close at midnight – I can’t turn that. “

Michael Morawki, owner of Ernest Hemingway House & Museumalso reminded the Commissioners: “It is not what you say, but how you say it”.

“Madame Mayor, I am sorry to tell you that we will not be 100% successful in wearing masks,” said Morawski. “All we can do is ask people as nicely as possible and thank them for doing the things necessary to protect us and our employees. We should thank the people for coming to our island and helping us recover from this crisis. Any time you create a situation where you tell people what to do, you are not going to get the best result. “

Johnston reminded a few speakers that the city of Key West continues to have a mask mandate.

Lynne Hernandez, regional director of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association for South Florida, told commissioners, “There is no more giving or self-regulating industry than bars and restaurants in Key West,” but she strongly encouraged officials not to continue cutting hours and incomes. In a letter she sent on behalf of the FRLA, Hernandez summarized the views of many entrepreneurs and workers about the curfew:

“Closing the city at midnight sends a negative message and image to our potential guests considering Key West for their next trip, business meeting or wedding, the equivalent of a multi-million dollar loss in sales in the area. Their actions are in complete contradiction to the approved news for tourism. Now is not the time to place undue restrictions on your local businesses without clear and concise evidence to justify such outrageous measures. A midnight curfew is a business and job killer in a city already facing the challenge of finding staff. If you

Don’t listen to your constituency and make the mistake of getting a midnight lockdown. You are directly responsible for Key West revenues and job losses. Are you ready to make up for this loss for local families? … Have you also thought carefully about a grant program to reimburse the hospitality industry for the hours and wages lost by their employees? Will you reimburse restaurants, hotels and bars for lost sales, job losses and cancellations? If not, vote no to a midnight curfew. Your decision directly affects your families

Friends and your neighbors. This proposal is an ill-founded measure that lacks merit or justification. We expect our elected officials to represent the voice of the citizens. Your actions do not represent the wishes or best interests of your constituents. We don’t want our business to go backwards. We don’t want a midnight curfew, and neither should you. “

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