JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after Florida’s governor lifted COVID-19 restrictions — allowing businesses, including bars and restaurants, to operate at full capacity again — some local doctors believe this will lead to people putting down their guard and spreading the coronavirus.
And some business owners said that because of their continued concerns, they’re still operating at limited capacity.
“This phase three does not signal that the pandemic is over,” said emergency room physician Matthew Thompson, co-founder and chief operating officer of Telescope Health.
He and his partners believe the reopening plan carries risks, especially if it means people letting their guard down.
“When we look at what is the highest risk thing you can do, it is to be in close proximity to somebody else in a poorly ventilated area and not wear a mask,” Thompson said. “I think we need to remain cautious and realize that reopening and moving toward some form of normalcy you or what we had before is it OK if we remember that we have to do that in a measured way.”
Florida recently surpassed 700,000 coronavirus cases with more than 14,000 deaths related to the virus. Shortly after the announcement, photos and videos from across the state showed some crowded bars and restaurants, with little to no social distancing and few masks being worn.
“If you’re going to go out — to a friend’s house, to a game, to a restaurant — if you make that decision, there are one million little decisions you can make after that that can lower your risk,” Thompson said. “So I would say wear your mask when you are around people in close proximity, try to avoid poorly ventilated areas and try to socially distance still.”
At the Bearded Pig Barbecue in San Marco, tables are spread out and business is steady thanks to a large outdoor sitting space. Management has decided to keep it that way, despite the governor’s relaxed restrictions.
“We’re going to ease back in,” said co-owner Chad Munsey. “Quite frankly, we’ve been very comfortable. Our guests on both sides of the fence have been very comfortable with the distance we’ve had. I don’t know that we go back to our old seating at all out here.”
It was a business decision for the governor, as restaurants have been at half capacity for months, cutting their revenue in half.
“This is a very difficult industry to succeed in,” DeSantis said.
Munsey said that initially, his restaurant lost about 45% of its revenue, however, over the past few weeks, business has rebounded, pulling in about 85% of typical revenue for this time of year.
The Bearded Pig’s second location in Jacksonville is still opening as planned, potentially in the next few months.
Munsey said staff members will continue to wear masks on the job and the recent boost in customers is helping him hire some more employees.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry extended a mask mandate for Duval County for another 30 days, which means customers will still have to wear face coverings when not at their tables.