Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday announced his state will move to into Phase 3 of reopening, lifting many restrictions placed on businesses during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
All statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants will be removed, and local governments will be prohibited from imposing new restrictions that would close businesses, WJXT reported.
DeSantis' executive order will allow restaurants to open at a minimum of 50% capacity and are allowed to operate at full capacity. The governor also suspended the collection of fines or fees for not wearing a mask.
"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."
DeSantis' order follows comments he made Thursday questioning the effectiveness of closing restaurants in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
"I don't think the closure of restaurants has proven to be effective. I get at how you could potentially have spread there, but I also have to look at that. They've been able to use outdoors, but we can't have these businesses dying, so they're not going to be able to be closed by locals anymore and they will to be able to operate at the capacity that they're comfortable with. So that's going to happen," DeSantis said.
According to WKMG, the governor met with a panel of medical experts to discuss the state's reopening strategy. DeSantis said his decision to lift capacity limits on restaurants was evidence-based.
"We had an 'A-B test.' Miami-Dade closed them at the height when everyone was panicking at the beginning of July, Broward didn't. Broward kept indoor dining. I challenge you to show me the difference in those epidemic curves. In fact, I think Broward went down. They're both dense counties, they both had significant epidemics, so I don't think the closure of restaurants has proven to be effective," DeSantis said.
DeSantis defended Floridians' "right to work" while explaining why he's blocking local communities from imposing new restrictions on businesses.
"We've worked great with locals, and I understand different problems and we've given them a lot of latitude to do things that I personally wouldn't have done, but I think that's the way to do it, bottom up. At the same time, I think everyone has the right to work. I think everyone in Florida has the right to operate a business. Now, there can be reasonable regulations on a local level, but to say 'no' at this point on a local perspective, I don't think that's viable," DeSantis said.
Additional details from Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan reported by WJXT include:
- 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.
"If you go back in March, we were told 15 days to slow the spread," DeSantis said. "In Florida, we followed that."
"Now people are saying, 'hey even if there is a vaccine, it's still going to take another year before you can operate appropriately,' and I don't think that's viable, I don't think that's acceptable," DeSantis added.