Florida led the nation this week in COVID-19 deaths, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has now completely reopened restaurants, bars, and all other businesses, saying that local governments would have to justify any further measures as the pandemic is apparently "over" just in time for early voting to start.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed an executive order lifting all remaining statewide coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses in Florida, including bars and restaurants.
The executive order rolls back nearly every measure in Florida put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus and puts the state into the last phase of its reopening plan.
The order immediately allows all businesses that had been shut down due to the pandemic to reopen, and it guarantees restaurants can operate at a minimum of 50 percent capacity.
Under the order, announced Friday in a news conference in downtown St. Petersburg, municipalities must justify any local restrictions of restaurant capacity between 50 and 100 percent. It does not force municipalities to increase capacity in bars beyond 50 percent, DeSantis said, though cities and counties are free to do so.
“(Restaurants) have worked as hard as anybody to create safe environments," said DeSantis, who spoke to reporters Friday afternoon from an empty ballroom inside the Birchwood restaurant on Beach Drive NE. "The idea that government dictating this is better than them making decisions so that their customers have confidence, I think is misplaced.”
DeSantis said the order allows local governments to have some “reasonable regulations” but said it’s time for businesses to be reopening.
“You can’t say ‘no’ after six months and just have people twisting in the wind,” he said.
DeSantis made the announcement surrounded by local business owners and other public officials, who cheered the news.
“Florida’s hospitality industry has been decimated by COVID-19,” Carol Dover, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said later in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming back our wonderful guests and to reopening the Sunshine State.”
But some other restaurant owners are circumspect about the idea of adding more tables following the order.
“The most important thing for us is for our staff and our guests to continue to feel safe," said restaurateur Richard Gonzmart, whose Columbia Restaurant Group owns The Columbia, Ulele and Goody Goody. "We are evaluating each of our restaurants and will add some tables and seats, but not anything close to 100 percent capacity at this time.”
Tom DeGeorge, owner of Ybor City’s Crowbar, also said he’d reopen at his own pace.
“I certainly am not going to sit there and open my doors 1,000 percent,” DeGeorge said. “I’m probably going to do exactly what I was going to do when I felt comfortable doing it and not worry about the government and what they told me.”
Jeff Gigante, co-founder of Forbici Modern Italian in Hyde Park Village, said the restaurant plans to maintain its protocols, meaning 50 percent capacity inside and full capacity outside. But his restaurant has a large interior space, so he understands why other establishments might want to increase their capacity.
“Smaller places that choose to bump it up to 75 or 100 percent will get no judgment from us,” he said. “I understand how hard this has been even to break even and not lose money."
So as flu season gets underway just in time for the election, expect a massive jump in Florida's cases and deaths as we head into October and November. Gotta die for Trump and the economy, right, Florida retirees?
7,000,000 cases and counting.