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Gyms reopen, restaurant seating expands Monday in Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gyms and fitness centers were allowed to reopen Monday and restaurants can now seat more customers, as Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to take “small steps” with his economic recovery plans amid the coronavirus pandemic.

DeSantis announced Friday that restaurants on Monday could expand their indoor seating to accommodate 50% occupancy, after being limited to 25% occupancy since May 4. Retail stores also will be able to go to 50% occupancy.

Gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to get back to business after being shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Under the guidelines laid out by the governor, gyms can reopen at up to 50% capacity with social distancing measures in place. DeSantis also urged people to take precautions as they work out.

“If you’re inside, make sure you’re doing the social distance and then sanitize the machines and surfaces after use,” DeSantis said during a news conference at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside Hospital Clinic in Jacksonville. “I mean, that should be happening anyways. I mean, if you’re sweating on the dip bar, clean the dip bar when you’re done doing dips.”

Over the weekend, gym owners were cleaning before reopening on Monday. But Chad Cahoy, owner of Jacksonville Strength and Athletics, will not be reopening Monday. He’ll be opening for the first time.

“I’m ready I’m ready to open up tomorrow," Cahoy told News4Jax on Sunday. “This is starting from scratch and a brand new facility. I was trying to get my gym open about a week prior to the pandemic, and all the gyms getting shut down, so this is my startup”

His facility in Baymeadows focuses on Olympic weightlifting and strength training and has classes starting Monday morning for beginners and experts. He has space to keep mats and stations 6 feet apart and will wipe down everything in between each class. Cahoy said the cleanliness shouldn’t be anything gymgoers aren’t used to.

“Pretty much any gym that I’ve ever worked at, we have very high cleanliness standards, so regardless of whether we’re going through the pandemic or we aren’t," Cahoy said. “But now we’re going to have to make sure that is done in between every single class -- just a little bit more work but not a big deal."

Craig Allen, who visits Bailey’s gym, isn’t worried about sanitation issues.

“I am not whatsoever with my personal experiences, especially over Bailey’s is that most of the people that I see at the gym, they’re doing what they need to do to keep their immune system‘s higher anyway, I seldom run into sick people at the gym,” said Allen.

The governor’s phase one plan for gyms includes encouraging people to make appointments or schedule the use of equipment.

RELATED: What to expect from the next step in DeSantis’ plan to reopen Florida | Here’s what some Northeast Florida gyms are doing before reopening | St. Johns County public libraries to begin phased reopening Tuesday

Also, as part of DeSantis’ announcement Friday, local governments can reopen libraries and museums with limited capacity, and they can work with amusement-park operators and short-term rental owners to submit reopening plans to the state.

The closure of theme parks in mid-March has been a major hit to Florida’s economy and tax revenues.

“They should identify the date certain that they believe that they could resume safe operations,” DeSantis said. “They have to provide how they're going to do it, how they're going to accommodate the guests, how they're going to protect the staff, and then they need to have an endorsement from the relevant official in their locality.”

Movie theaters and bars, meanwhile, will remain closed.

DeSantis said he’s working on plans to open summer youth programs and schools, saying the virus tends to attack people who have underlying health conditions or who aren’t in good physical condition. He said Wednesday that plans were being devised for youth sports programs.

“I would say the experience in Florida has been very, very low risk for minors, which I think is a really, really good thing,” DeSantis said. “And I've said many times, I would have no problem with my kids playing with other kids or doing that, because I just view them as a low-risk environment. I think there's a whole bunch of other risks that are more significant that parents happily accept every single day.”

Friday’s announcement was an additional part of a first phase of economic reopening that began May 4. That phase expanded at the start of this week to include allowing barbershops and salons to reopen and to include Palm Beach County, which had been initially left out.

On Thursday, DeSantis included Miami-Dade and Broward counties in the reopening efforts. Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward have the largest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state.

While many Florida businesses started to reduce services and close their doors in mid-March, the state has been on a semi-lockdown since DeSantis issued stay-at-home orders for people and “non-essential” businesses on April 1.

Democratic lawmakers warned Friday that plunging into more reopening without adequate COVID-19 testing being available would use Floridians as economic “guinea pigs.”

“I think we're sort of shooting in the dark here,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, while at the Old Capitol on Friday. “Because without testing, without much more significant testing of more Floridians, it's going to be hard for us to make a determination that we're doing this safely and effectively.”

DeSantis said the state will continue to monitor and prepare for any outbreaks or resurgences of the virus. But while research on a vaccine continues, he said, “everyone should recognize that you will never get to a point where you can just say it's gone.”

Democratic legislators argued Friday they’re ready to go back to work in a special session to address problems in the unemployment system and the economic impacts of the virus on the state’s budget, as they’re seeing reports that the budget shortfall could reach as much as $10 billion.

But they contend DeSantis and his business allies are rushing the phased reopening.

“Clearly, we do need to begin to look at opening,” Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. “But we don't need to do it too soon, because we’re just got to make it more difficult. This experiment that the governor is harping upon, this experiment is going to utilize the people of Florida as the subject like guinea pigs.”

Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, expressed concerns about workers at bars, Central Florida theme parks and other high-volume businesses if they are reopened.

“Imagine the hundreds and thousands of people going there. How are you going to control them? How are you going to safeguard your employees?” Torres said.

As of Sunday, the Florida Department of Health reported the state had 45,588 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 1,973 deaths, including 777 new cases and 9 deaths added since Saturday.


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