Florida Keys Reopen to Visitors as Miami-Area Beaches Closed

Officials are warning residents to keep up their vigilance as the Florida Keys reopens to visitors

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The Florida Keys are now officially open for socially distant business. 

It’s a free ride down US 1, nothing to stop cars from cruising down the Overseas Highway now that the COVID-19 health checkpoint is gone, and the people at Shell World in Key Largo couldn’t be happier to see what had become an endangered species in their store: human customers. 

“It’s exciting, the store has been in pristine condition these last couple of months so we’re glad to have people coming back in and browsing and enjoying the fun things we have to offer,” said operations director Daniel Hill.

The ten-week quarantine has taken a huge toll on businesses in the Keys, which depend greatly on tourism. 

Jim Wilhelm told us his business, the Scuba Outlet dive shop, was sinking under the weight of the pandemic. 

“It’s been devastating, I describe it to people as a hurricane that just goes on and on and on, we have basically been out of business for about 75 days,” Wilhelm said. 

Despite no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus so far in Monroe County, businesses — especially in the tourism-driven Florida Keys — are bracing for the pandemic’s economic impact. NBC 6's Arlene Borenstein reports.

Now Wilhelm has a lifeline, a chance to sell face masks for underwater exploring to go along with the face masks everyone is required to wear inside his store. Carlos Moreno of St. Louis, Missouri, bought gear for himself and his two sons. They flew down with diving and fishing on their agenda.

“Been waiting for this for two months now,” Moreno said. 

The COVID-19 hit to the Florida Keys economy is still being measured, but it’s safe to say it’s at least in the tens of millions of dollars. 

Think about all the hotels sitting empty for more than two months. 

The Pines and Palms resort on Islamorada welcomed guests Monday, a huge milestone. 

“Today’s an exciting day, we’re really, really excited to see people pull in the driveway and start to make a recovery to whatever the new normal’s gonna be,” said owner Jim Bernardin. 

The new normal is relentlessly sanitizing every surface in the rooms and on the property. Peggy McPherrin of West Palm Beach checked in with her daughter, ready to celebrate. 

“Today is my first day of retirement after 37 years as a nurse,” McPherrin explained. “It’s extremely exciting, we have had many trips here, we know the people have suffered losses in their restaurants and bars and we’re ready to get out and bring some revenue in.”

After treating COVID-19 patients for the past two months, McPherrin deserves the stress break. She said she’s ready to have fun and spend money, which is exactly what the Conchs want to hear. 

There are tons of ways to spend cash when you’re on island time. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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