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Florida bars can soon reopen at 50% capacity for onsite consumption

DeSantis also plans to soon loosen restaurant restrictions

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Halsey Beshears, the state’s department of business secretary, said Thursday night that Florida will be rescinding an emergency order directed at bars.

On Monday, all bars in the state will be allowed to reopen at 50% occupancy for onsite consumption.

“In meetings with hundreds of owners of bars and breweries across the state, I’ve heard their stories of struggle, and I’ve observed their serious commitment to making health and safety a continuing priority in their businesses,” Beshears said in a prepared statement. “It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital that we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic.”

The restrictions were put in place due to widespread non-compliance with coronavirus safety guidelines. A week ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he hoped to soon give Floridans the “ability to have some enjoyment in their life” by soon lifting on-site drinking restrictions.

The restrictions on bars and breweries have particularly affected establishments that don’t serve food. Those businesses haven’t been able to sell alcohol for onsite consumption.

Since March, the Bald Eagle Pub in Jacksonville has been closed amid the pandemic. Randy Martin, the owner, was relieved to learn the news Thursday.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful. I think it’s still going to be really tough to pay our bills at 50 percent,” Martin said. “It’s a serious virus, we got to take care and clean everything and do what we’re supposed to do but we’ve got to get everything open at 100 percent as well.”

Martin said he’s excited to see his customers again.

“It’s been overwhelming. The phone calls and the support and the customers want to come home. They want to come to the place where they can see their friends,” he said.

Plans to also loosen restaurant restrictions

DeSantis said Thursday he plans to soon ease restrictions imposed on the state’s restaurants and has asked President Donald Trump to allow more travel from Europe and Brazil, saying he believes the current coronavirus restrictions are now too strict.

DeSantis told a meeting of restaurant industry executives in Fort Myers that the current limitation of 50% capacity for indoor dining and requiring that tables be kept 6 feet (2 meters) apart seems arbitrary.

“Why 50 and not 40? Why 50 and not 70? And then the 6-foot is not evidence-based, per se. The World Health Organization says 3-foot distance. In Asia, they are doing less than that. I think they do 2, two-and-a-half feet. Europe does less than 6. Are they not doing science or are we not doing science?" DeSantis said.

DeSantis suggested restaurants will know best how to govern their behavior as they don’t want to scare off customers by becoming coronavirus hot spots.

“Just have some common sense on how you are doing it,” DeSantis said. He gave no specifics on when the restrictions would be eased, but said it would be soon.

DeSantis and Beshears praised small businesses for their efforts.

“We want to help you out and figure out how we move forward,” Beshears said. “We recognize that it’s been tough. Like you heard the governor say, it’s hard in this industry to begin when... you blow up the entire model of how many people are allowed in your restaurant in order to make ends meet.”

DeSantis also said he supported the European and Brazilian travel restrictions, but they “have served their purpose.”

“I have told the president we would like to see those lifted,” said DeSantis, who is a strong Trump ally. He said he sees no difference if someone travels across the border from Georgia to visit Florida than if they arrive by plane from a foreign country. “I am comfortable with it.”

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Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro contributed to this report.

News4Jax anchors Mary Baer & Kent Justice contributed to this report.


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