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West Palm Beach mayor pleased with reopening but 'we are not out of the woods yet'

Topics addressed included testing, relief programs
West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James
Posted at 10:25 AM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 12:31:52-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The city of West Palm Beach and Mayor Keith James held a news conference Friday morning to deliver an update on the coronavirus and recovery efforts to help businesses.

James said he wants resident and business owners to know that the city has a plan to help in economic recovery efforts.

The mayor said the city has approved 35 people to receive rental assistance to cover up to two months of rent, totaling $80,000.

Additionally, the city has assisted 75 residents with reemployment application assistance and about 30 people with assistance for food stamp applications.

In the last five weeks, James said 29 small businesses have been approved for $263,000 in short-term loans between $5,000 to $10,000 to help pay for rent, payroll and utilities.

"When we put together our budget in 2019, none of these items were included in that budget, so we have had to scurry and hustle as a staff and administration to find these monies. We had to be flexible because we knew that there was a dire need for our citizens and small business," said James.

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In an effort to help restaurants after dine-in seating resumed this week at a 25 percent capacity, the city has begun a "Dining On The Spot" campaign.

"(It) will expand outdoor seating for these restaurants. Not only will this help customers to social distance but will also help businesses serve more people while adhere to the state's capacity guidelines," said James.

A pop-up coronavirus testing site will be held Saturday at Gaines Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for West Palm Beach residents. Call 561-822-1425 to make an appointment.

As of Friday, James said the city has tested about 450 residents through pop-up mobile testing and anticipates the number of people tested will be around 1,000 by the end of next week.

James thanked Palm Beach County officials for working with the city to develop a plan to conduct more testing. This comes after James recently made a passionate request for more testing kits.

James said the city library is still closed and they are working on an operational plan to open it soon.

"Please continue to comply with all safety guidelines and orders ... We are not out of the woods yet with respect to this pandemic," said James.

Assistant Fire Chief Brent Bloomfield addressed how the city is preparing for hurricane season.

"We're going to have to be thinking differently this year about how we do hurricane season. Sheltering and (how we're going to get people out of potential flood zones), we're going to have to start looking on how we're going to do that, and how to do that safely," said Bloomfield.

The assistant fire chief emphasized that residents need to start planning now for hurricane season. He said the city is working with the county on a plan, possibly opening more shelters than in previous years.