Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in Florida on Friday in a move to reopen the state’s economy despite the spread of the coronavirus.
Local governments, however, may still impose restrictions for their areas, although they are not allowed to limit restaurants to reopen at less than 50% capacity. Local leaders will also have to show justification and the estimated cost for operating restaurants under 100% capacity.
And civil citations for violating local mask orders are suspended.
Earlier Friday, Broward County Mayor Dale Holness announced that restaurants in his county would be permitted to reopen bar counters, however alcohol would not be allowed to be served in those areas, patrons would need to be 6-feet apart and plexiglass would need to installed.
Restaurants in Broward County can also now have live performances, providing those performers be at least 10 feet away from patrons. Holness said everyone must still wear facial coverings unless they are seated at a table.
In Miami-Dade County, restaurants have been operating with a maximum of 50% capacity.
Late Friday afternoon, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez released a statement saying that all businesses may reopen per the governor’s orders, but that the county can still impose guidelines and protocols.
“All restaurants, regardless of the size of their interior spaces, will be allowed to operate at no less than 50% capacity,” Gimenez’s statement said. “Civil citations issued for violation of the mandatory mask order are suspended. My staff and I are consulting with the County Attorney’s Office regarding the enforcement of the mask mandate at businesses. We want to ensure compliance with the state order, while also continuing to act in the best interests of our community.”
Gimenez added that the county curfew remains in place from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
DeSantis’ move, announced in St. Petersburg, is sure to stoke debate in a politically crucial state, where the pandemic has become intertwined with the upcoming presidential election. The Republican governor is a major ally of President Donald Trump, who praised DeSantis during a campaign visit to Florida.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber calls the move political — and unsafe in South Florida, which has had the highest concentration of the state’s COVID-19 cases.
“I don’t think anyone in Miami-Dade County knew this was coming,” Gelber said. “I think we were going in the right direction. The governor just wants to follow Trump’s lead as much as possible.”
It is welcome news to local businesses, however.
“Huge relief,” said the manager of Toby’s billiards in Hollywood, who says she almost had to close down indefinitely. “I have chills.”
DeSantis took the action even as he acknowledged that the pandemic was far from over.
Florida has long been a COVID-19 hotspot, with nearly 700,000 people infected by the virus since the pandemic began in March. Nearly 14,000 Florida residents have died.
Since the state’s number of cases peaked in July, the number of new infections have 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 added 2,847 confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, pushing the statewide total since March 1 to 695,887. The state also announced 120 new virus deaths, pushing its total to 14,038. Hospitalizations declined by 34 to 2,137 people.
The governor’s announcement Friday would allow restaurants across the state to immediately reopen at full capacity — and would bar cities and counties from ordering restaurants to close, unless they can justify a closure for economic or health reasons.
See DeSantis' new executive order below: