Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears said Tuesday his department will be sending state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco officers to check on bars and restaurants around the state between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. and will suspend licenses if those establishments are not following guidelines meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The announcement came after a University of Central Florida-area bar had its alcohol license suspended. At least 13 employees and 28 patrons at The Knight’s Pub had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Beshears, who joined Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at Tuesday’s news conference in Orlando.
On Tuesday night, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he plans to address reopening requirements on Wednesday. No other details were immediately provided.
As part of our public health COVID response, I’ll be addressing bar and restaurant capacity and reopening requirements tomorrow.— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) June 24, 2020
As Florida sees more widespread transmission of the coronavirus, DeSantis reminded bar owners and workers that they must operate at 50% capacity inside under guidelines included in his June 3 executive order.
In addition to the occupancy limit, pubs, as well as restaurants, must offer seated service -- no one is allowed to stand -- to allow for everyone to socially distance since tables should be spaced 6 feet apart.
The governor said if someone sees a pub or restaurant not following the rules, it needs to be reported as there is “no tolerance for that.” He said he hopes of the suspension of licenses will send a message.
“If they’re operating a 55%, OK, give them a warning and tell them, ‘Hey, 50.' But if you go in and it’s just like mayhem like ‘Dance Party USA’ and it’s packed to the rafters, that’s just cut and dry and that’s not just an innocent mistake,” DeSantis said. “If you don’t follow the guidelines and you pack huge numbers of people indoors that are very close, you’re creating an environment that you’re going to see more spread, and I think we’ve seen that with some of the younger (population).”
At Sneakers Sports Grille in Jacksonville Beach, customers have only been permitted to dine outside. Tommy McCoy, the owner, said it’s how restaurant staff and customers are staying safe from the coronavirus.
“If that means closing down the inside or doing things that we don’t want to do business-wise, we’re still going to do it because at the end of this, if we’re not safe and healthy, then it doesn’t matter,” said Tommy McCoy, owner of Sneakers.
McCoy said employees are required to wear masks and that they have their temperature taken each time they arrive at work.
“Thankfully, so far, the precautions that we’ve taken are working,” he said.
News4Jax made a request with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to find out if any Jacksonville-area restaurants or bars have received citations or complaints. The request was not immediately fulfilled Tuesday.
The governor had warned Saturday that his administration would ramp up inspections by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
When asked Tuesday why the state hasn’t acted on complaints about bars violating the executive order, Beshears said the state has only received 106 complaints since the second phase of DeSantis’ reopening plan started June 5. He added that he’s advised Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco officers to remember what it was like to be in their 20s.
“Everyone’s been locked at home, they want to get out, they want to just get some fresh air and stretch their wings a little bit,” Beshears said. “So, to remember that, that everyone was going to do the best they could, these restaurants and these bars, to allow people back in and try and maintain the governor’s orders. There are going to be a few bad apples. We recognize that. We wanted to warn them originally.”
DeSantis said there has been an explosion in the last week of COVID-19 cases among younger people in Florida, specifically those ages 25 to 34.
A string of some of the largest daily increases since the coronavirus pandemic made it to Florida continued Tuesday with the state Department of Health reporting 3,289 additional people testing positive for COVID-19.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.