People seen partying Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at the Elbo Room in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Florida was moving to phase three of its reopening plan, with bars and restaurants opened at full capacity. mpi04/MediaPunch / AP

Florida restaurants and bars are allowed to operate at full capacity under an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but local rules, such as mask mandates, still apply.

DeSantis had hinted he’d lift the 50% interior capacity caps for restaurants and bars in place since June across most of Florida with a statewide directive preempting local governments from adopting their own restrictions.

The directive DeSantis announced Friday in St. Petersburg included a mandate that “no COVID-19 emergency ordinance may prevent an individual from working or from operating a business.”

“We need everybody to get back to work,” DeSantis said. “They have a right to operate.”

The measure preempted local authorities from imposing interior capacity caps below 50%, but left municipalities with some enforcement control.

Restaurants and bars “can operate at a minimum of 50 percent regardless of local rule, and then if a local (ordinance) restricts between 50 and 100 (percent of occupancy), they’ve got to provide that justification and they’ve got to identify what the costs involved with doing that are,” the governor explained.

Businesses still can require masks inside their premises and impose their own rules.

Under the governor’s order, municipalities can continue to regulate bar and restaurant capacities and enforce COVID-19 operational protocols, but they cannot lower the 50% capacity floor or penalize violators.

The order suspended “the collection of COVID-19 fines and penalties associated with COVID-19 enforced upon individuals” by local governments, which DeSantis called “an act of executive grace.”

The order does not mention face masks. When a reporter noted that, the governor responded obliquely: “Good point.”

DeSantis’ order also, for the first time, moved south Florida into the same reopening stage as the rest of the state.

The region’s three urban counties – Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade – had only moved into phase two this month. The rest of Florida had been in phase two since June.

South Florida officials said the order does not preclude them from implementing their own approved blueprints for responding and recovering from the pandemic.

Palm Beach Deputy County Administrator Jon Van Arnam in an email requesting guidance from officials said the county can require businesses to comply with its face mask rules but “no individual can be fined for violating the order. We can still enforce on businesses.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is challenging Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a heated 26th Congressional District race, announced Saturday “all restaurants, regardless of the size of their interior spaces, will be allowed to operate at no less than 50% capacity” in accordance with DeSantis’ order.

“Civil citations issued for violation of the mandatory mask order are suspended,” Gimenez said. “My staff and I are consulting with the County Attorney’s office regarding the enforcement of the mask mandate at businesses. We want to ensure compliance with the state order, while also continuing to act in the best interests of our community.”

Miami-Dade County will continue to enforce its 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, Gimenez said.

In Miami-Dade, counter service inside restaurants and bars is restricted to 50% capacity with seating separated as far as possible. Dance clubs must require masks on the dance floor; eating and drinking is confined to tables only.

In Broward County, local rules prohibit counter service, customers must be 6 feet apart and plastic glass must be installed. Live performances are allowed, masks are required in restaurants and they can be removed only while sitting and eating.

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