By Danielle LaChance
Research shows that 85% of a business’s customers live or work within a four-mile radius of the business in question. But given our nation’s current health crisis, many organizations have had to rapidly adapt in order to keep afloat. For businesses that depend on in-person interactions — like restaurants, bars, and even theme parks — the pandemic has translated to major uncertainty. But now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has officially lifted all coronavirus-related restrictions in an effort to strengthen the state’s economy. The question is: is it too late? And will the Sunshine State once again become a hotspot for COVID-19 as a result?
Until now, Florida’s restaurants and bars were allowed to provide indoor service to customers at 50% of the location’s legal occupancy. Although there’s no doubt that many business owners lost sleep over the restrictions (and 45% of Americans have trouble falling asleep as it is), these limitations were developed in accordance with guidance from health officials. After all, a recent study found that people who test positive for COVID-19 are twice as likely to have eaten at restaurants in the two weeks prior to being tested, compared to people who test negative for the virus. While nothing was explicitly stopping Floridians from enjoying a meal or a drink at these establishments, particularly because outdoor dining is available throughout much of the year, those restrictions were clearly a thorn in DeSantis’s side.
As a result, the governor chose to lift all COVID-related restrictions for restaurants, bars, and other businesses across the state. These establishments can now reopen at full capacity. Further, local municipalities are prevented from ordering those businesses to close or to operate at less than 50% capacity unless they’re able to provide proper justification for a closure (which might include health or economic factors). Counties and cities can allow these facilities to limit their capacity to 50% of their occupancy, however, which many officials have already said they will do. DeSantis’s order also keeps local governments from collecting fines related to public health mandates (like mask-wearing and social distancing) and even suspended all outstanding fines and other penalties that had been issued in such situations.
In a statement, DeSantis explained: “We are today moving into what we initially called phase 3… And what that’ll mean for the restaurants is there will not be limitations from the state of Florida. We’re also saying in the state of Florida everybody has a right to work. [Local governments] can do reasonable regulations, but they can’t just say no.”
Amusement parks weren’t specifically mentioned in DeSantis’s order or press conference, but since the state has now technically entered Phase 3, many are wondering whether capacity restrictions at Disney World might soon be lifted. In a written statement, Disney noted:
“We received the Governor’s executive order and are evaluating it to determine what it may mean for our business. We are not making any immediate changes. As a reminder, face coverings are still required at Walt Disney World Resort.”
But Disney has certainly made some other sweeping changes since the restrictions were officially lifted statewide. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the company plans to lay off roughly 6,700 non-union employees starting December 4 — a particularly unpleasant start to the holiday season. It may potentially be only the first round of layoffs, as reports indicate that even Disney performers who are members of the Actors Equity union may also be affected. Hotel housekeepers, ride attendants, and other employees are likely to be impacted, as 28,000 U.S. employees will likely be without jobs when all is said and done. According to the chief of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, around 67% of those 28,000 positions are filled by hourly employees who work on a part-time basis; there are full-time employees and even executives in the mix, as well. Despite the fact that Executive Chairman Bob Iger chose to forgo his salary and CEO Bob Chapek took a 50% pay cut back in March to offset the financial fallout for Disney, officials have maintained that Disneyland’s continued closure and Disney World’s limited crowds have taken a massive toll. Although 92% of employees say vacation time is important to them, travel restrictions and health concerns have translated to even lower attendance than anticipated.
That being said, Florida itself is far from being the Happiest Place on Earth right now. Although the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations statewide have decreased on a steady basis since their peak in July, the state now has a total of nearly 700,000 confirmed cases and 13,914 deaths. And with restrictions lifted, it’s entirely possible the Sunshine State could see those numbers creep back up once more. Florida currently ranks third in confirmed cases and fifth in fatalities related to the coronavirus. But whatever happens moving forward, it’s clear that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere any time soon.