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DeSantis moves state into phase 3 of reopening, lifting indoor restrictions

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 25, 2020

Governor Ron DeSantis announced on Friday that the state is lifting indoor capacity restrictions at restaurants, theme parks and most other businesses as part of the state’s phase 3 reopening since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The order lifts restrictions on social distancing.

The order takes effect immediately.

The lifting of the order on restaurants would still allow local governments to limit capacity to under 100% if they quantify the economic impact of each limitation or requirement on those restaurants, and explain why each limitation or requirement is necessary for public health.

The order further lifts capacity restrictions nearly all businesses including amusement parks, entertainment venues, concert houses, auditoriums, gyms, libraries, museums and movie theaters.

DeSantis also said he wants people to be able to attend football games and concerts.

DeSantis said he wants to “do a full Super Bowl” in February when the event is scheduled for Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

“The virus doesn’t go away. Even if you have the vaccine, the virus doesn’t go away,” DeSantis said. He said he will continue to support long-term care and nursing homes. He said the state should be ready for a second wave of the virus spreading.

DeSantis said the hospitals can handle those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “If anything, the hospitals need more patients.”

The governor also is ordering for fines relating to social distancing and violations of mask-wearing requirements to be reversed as an act of executive grace. “All outstanding fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals are suspended. I think we need to get away from trying to penalize people for social distancing and just work with people constructively but to impose some type of penalty – some even have jail sentences attached.”

The decision by DeSantis comes as the state’s number of new coronavirus cases has been steadying over the past month.

In Lee County, the number of cases climbed to 20,244, an increase of approximately 5.5% from data reported Sept. 14. The county saw a doubling of the rate of new cases (4%) on Monday compared to data reported a week earlier.

There have been more than 695,000 COVID-19 positives reported in the state.

There have been 14,083 deaths in Florida related to the coronavirus.

In Lee County, the number of deaths related to COVID-19 rose from 448 on Sept. 14 to 466 deaths on Friday. The numbers don’t reflect deaths that necessarily occurred on those dates but reflect when they recorded in state reports. The latest recorded death in Lee County related to COVID-19 was an 85-year-old male who died Sept. 8.

About 5.1 million people have been tested for the coronavirus in Florida.

Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), applauded the decision.

“Florida’s hospitality industry has been decimated by COVID-19,” Dover said. “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.”

The order does not mention bars and clubs though at Friday’s press conference, DeSantis said “because there have been some issues with these bars, what we said to the locals on that is ‘OK – the bars are status quo from what we have. If you want to go beyond the 50, you can authorize it and do it. We’re not telling you you have to but we’re not going to stand in the way of that.’ So that will be a local decision if they want to try to do more capacity in some of the bars and clubs.”

The order rescinds several emergency orders previously given by DeSantis including an August order which requires the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to ensure all restaurants implement employee screening protocols pursuant to guidance developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The order further lifts restrictions on social distancing and mandates on safety protocols including the ban on more than 50 people congregating together. The order also lifts the order mandating regular tests for people who work in long-term care facilities.