Florida lifts all coronavirus restaurant restrictions despite persistent cases

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday lifted all restrictions on businesses statewide, pushing the state, which has long been a coronavirus hotspot, into its “phase three” of reopening. Florida has more than 695,000 COVID-19 cases and a 13.38% testing positivity rate, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

The governor announced an executive order allowing all restaurants and bars to operate at 100% capacity. In addition to lifting health restrictions on businesses, DeSantis said he is banning cities and counties from fining people who do not social distance or wear face masks — essentially eliminating all local mask mandates. 

“We are today moving into initially called phase three. What that will mean for the restaurants, there will not be limitations,” said DeSantis. “As an act of executive grace, all fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals are suspended.”

DeSantis, a Republican and supporter of President Trump, estimated that Floridians have been fined nearly $2 million for violating local health orders. Local governments will not be reimbursing fines that have already been collected.

The governor said he wants the state to fully reopen, including bars and restaurants at full capacity, with “limited social distancing protocols.” The order does not prevent businesses from enforcing mask-wearing for customers. 

“We’re also saying in the state of Florida, everybody has the opportunity and the right to work. Every business has the right to operate. If some of the locals may be able to, they can do reasonable regulations, but you can’t just say, ‘no.’ You can’t say, ‘no’ after six months and just have people just twisting in the wind,” the governor said.

DeSantis said moving to phrase three of reopening would aid economic-recovery efforts, ensuring “business certainty.” But according to the World Health Organization, positive rates should be at or below 5% for two weeks before a state can safely reopen. 

New cases have declined steadily since Florida’s outbreak peaked in July. “If we see an increase, we’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said, emphasizing that hospitals are prepared to handle a potential surge.

Local mayors are unclear on how the executive order will affect their counties. 

The office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez told CBS Miami that the curfew is in place but they are not clear on the mask mandate. The office of Broward Mayor Dale Holness also said they need more clarification on the order. Both counties continue to have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the state. 

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