The small island communities of the Florida Keys also see an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Fifty-six people have died from coronavirus complications since March 1 according to Monroe County. More have been hospitalized.
One hospitalized is county Commissioner Mike Forster. He’s in the ICU in Baptist Health in Kendall. Forster’s friends tell NBC 6 he was vaccinated, tried to stay healthy, and do what public health officials ask. Now, they are incredibly worried.
The string of island communities has not been immune from the pandemic.
Forster has lived in the Florida Keys since 1990 and is the owner of Mangrove Mike’s.
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“This gets really emotional for me and our community,” said Monroe County Mayor Michelle Coldiron, “We are a very small, close, tight-knit community. Whenever any one of us falls we all feel the pain.”
Coldiron has known Forster for more than a decade, before when she served on Marathon’s council and Forster served as mayor and councilman of the Village of Islamorada.
“I consider him not just to be a colleague, but a very, very good friend of mine. So this is not easy, seeing one of my dear friends struggling right now,” Coldiron said.
When the pandemic shut down restaurants in the Florida Keys — including Mangrove Mike’s — Forster's restaurant became the area’s food distributor through Farm Share.
“He’s Mr. Islamorada. I was trying to think of a way to describe Mike. There’s not a need that he doesn’t address,” said Tony Hammon, Forster's longtime friend and local pastor. He’s known Forster for 20 years.
Hammon said Forster spends his free time fishing and helping organize humanitarian aid trips to Ugandan orphanages and schools. He's a successful man, Hammon said, who believes in giving back.
“Not only does he give back, he gives back more than he’s capable of giving back. I mean it’s just on and on and on,” Hammon said.
The mayor is encouraging people in the Keys to get vaccinated, wear masks in public, social distance when possible, and stay home if feeling ill. The county has set up additional sites for testing and vaccines because of the current increase in cases.