ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday afternoon that Florida will move into Phase 3 of reopening, a move that will roll back many of the restrictions put in place over the last six months of the coronavirus pandemic.
That means all statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants will be removed, DeSantis said, and the changes will go into effect immediately.
“I think that this will be very, very important to the industry,” DeSantis said. “The order that I’m signing today will guarantee restaurants can operate and will not allow closures. They can operate at a minimum of 50%, regardless of local rule.”
While the governor said bars and restaurants can go back to normal capacity local governments can still put some restrictions in place as long as they allow at least 50% capacity.
In Jacksonville, there aren’t any restrictions that are impacted by the governor’s decision meaning full capacity is allowed.
“We continue to commend Governor Desantis in his smart and safe approach to reopening our state. We ask for the continued vigilance of our citizens and establishments that helped slow the spread of COVID-19,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said in an emailed statement.
Statewide, there will also be a suspension of collecting fines or fees for restrictions like not wearing a mask, DeSantis added.
“I think we need to get away from trying to penalize people for social distancing and just work with people, constructively,” DeSantis said.
The Republican governor’s move is sure to stoke debate in a politically crucial state, where the pandemic has become intertwined with the upcoming presidential election. DeSantis is a major ally of President Donald Trump.
DeSantis did acknowledge that Florida could see a second wave of cases.
“People shouldn’t think it’s over. They shouldn’t think it’s done. We could easily see a resurgence. I don’t think anybody knows,” said DeSantis.
He also said the state is “not closing anything going forward.”
Private businesses can still operate with any self-imposed restrictions under the order. For instance, a restaurant can choose not to open the dining room at all, or at 25% capacity if they chose.
Cool Moose Café in Riverside said it will be taking the change at its own pace.
“It is still unknown what’s going to happen in the fall in terms of the virus and the flu and the combination of such,” said owner Anthony Jarvis.
He’s not sure if he will expand to full capacity.
“We are small. We get fairly busy on the weekends and quite honestly, it’s nice to have a little extra space,” Jarvis said. “We’re just trying to go day by day like every business and trying to evaluate what we’re seeing out in the public and maybe other businesses and make decisions accordingly.”
He said weekdays have slowed down compared to weekends, but it could change depending on what customers are comfortable with.
The State of Emergency order still runs through Nov. 3 despite changes in restrictions.
Since the state’s number of cases peaked in July, the number of new infections has steadily declined.
The outbreak prompted the governor to close bars and nightclubs, and restricted restaurants to take-out dining for months. Amusement parks ground to a halt.
The closures battered the economy, leaving hundreds of thousands of Floridians unemployed.
DeSantis has slowly reopened the state for business since then, allowing restaurants and bars to reopen at half capacity, even as the pandemic continues to spread.
“Florida’s hospitality industry has been decimated by COVID-19,” said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). "This has been a crisis like we have never seen before. Businesses have closed, and more than 336,000 people have lost work in our industry. The effects on the local and state economy have been significant.
Here’s what else happens under Phase 3, according to the state’s reopening plan:
- Individuals older than 65 years of age and individuals with a serious underlying medical condition (such as chronic lung disease, moderate-to-severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immune-compromised status, cancer, diabetes, severe obesity, renal failure and liver disease) can resume public interactions but should practice social distancing, minimizing exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practical unless precautionary measures are observed. Vulnerable populations should affirmatively inform their employer that they are a member of the vulnerable population so that their employer can plan accordingly.
- Non-vulnerable populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
- Non-essential travel may continue.
- Employees should resume unrestricted staffing of worksites and implement the final phasing in of employees returning to work. For vulnerable populations, teleworking can be considered.
- Local government meetings should return to in-person quorum and public participation for local government bodies.
- Gyms and fitness centers should open to full capacity but should maintain adequate sanitation practices among employees and patrons during all hours of operation.
- Theme parks may return to normal operations with limited social distancing protocols.
- Vacation Rentals should resume normal operating procedures but should continue to thoroughly clean and disinfect the property between rentals.
- Operators of retail businesses should operate at full capacity but should continue to maintain adequate sanitation practices for employees and patrons.
The Florida Department of Health on Friday reported 122 additional deaths connected to COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 14,083 since March.
Nine of the additional deaths reported Friday were in Northeast Florida: four in Duval County, two in Alachua County, two in Clay County and one in Union County. Those who died ranged in age from 48 and 81.
Five of the newly reported deaths in Northeast Florida were first identified as COVID-19 patients by the state in July.