Over these last few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered forth unparalleled challenges to us all. I am so thankful and grateful to our community for the sacrifices you have made to help us save lives. I know very well just how difficult this has been. My aunt suffered through this virus for weeks and is facing a lengthy recovery, my children have lost jobs and income, and several family members’ small businesses are clinging to survival.
While the lockdown has allowed us to slow the spread and saves lives, we cannot continue this way indefinitely. Many families have reached a point where they are in danger of losing their homes, jobs, businesses or the simple ability to provide food for their families. So, the time has come when we must now look to the next steps. What will our “new normal” look like?
The Palm Beach County Commission this week took two important steps to bring forth our new normal. First, we unanimously voted to formally request that Gov. Ron DeSantis allow Palm Beach County to enter into a Phase 1 re-opening, joining most other counties in the state. The governor approved our request, and we will enter Phase 1 on Monday, May 11 (see the Governor’s Phase 1 FAQ here). Second, the commissioners voted to open up Palm Beach County beaches to county residents only, beginning no later than Monday, May 18. The board will meet at a special meeting on Friday, May 15 to get details on the re-opening rollout. Both of these decisions were made with the understanding that social distancing and other CDC guidelines will be in place to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Next, I want to send a big thank you to our farmers. Their unbelievable efforts this harvest season to provide food for our struggling citizens, under some of the most challenging and threatening conditions the agricultural industry has ever faced, is to be forever applauded. They knew how much our community relied upon them, and they came through to ensure we had the produce to feed our families. As this pandemic continues, the farmers’ very survival is at stake, so I urge you to show your support by buying fresh Florida produce whenever possible.
Lastly, a word about Lake Okeechobee. The lake is currently at 11.25 feet, 2.2 feet below average. Our current drought conditions clearly show the danger of holding the lake low, which threatens the regional water supply. The South Florida Water Management District projects a greater than 50 percent chance that lake levels will fall below 11 feet by June 1 and an approximately 18 percent chance that lake levels will be at or below 10.5 feet by June 1. Palm Beach County will continue to closely monitor the lake conditions and advocate for its responsible management guided by science.
Once again, thank you for all of your efforts, and please stay safe as we move forward together into our new normal.
Melissa McKinlay, County Commissioner, District 6