By John Haughey | The Center Square
Florida bars can reopen at 12:01 a.m. Monday under the same 50 percent capacity and social distancing protocols widely ignored in June when they were reshuttered by state order.
Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) Secretary Halsey Beshears announced in a tweet Thursday night he signed an executive order rescinding his June 26 statewide shutdown of bars that don’t serve food.
“In meetings with hundreds of owners of bars and breweries across the state, I’ve heard their stories of struggle, and I’ve observed their serious commitment to making health and safety a continuing priority in their businesses,” Beshears said. “It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic.”
Beshears issued his order after participating in a Fort Myers roundtable with restaurant and bar operators during which Gov. Ron DeSantis hinted current emergency restrictions on restaurants also soon would be relaxed.
“I think we’re going to be comfortable moving forward very soon, and I think that’s important,” DeSantis said.
Under Beshears’ order, bars can operate at half of interior capacity, serve seated patrons and provide outdoor seating and service with appropriate social distancing, the same requirements imposed in DeSantis’ order June 3 reopening bars under the second phase his reopening plan.
Citing widespread noncompliance that made enforcement “impractical and insufficient,” Beshears issued his shutdown order three weeks later.
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) reported 8,942 new positive coronavirus cases June 26. An upward trend peaked in mid-July, with 15,000 new coronavirus cases reported daily.
The DOH documented 2,585 new coronavirus cases Friday and reported 222 deaths attributed to the disease. Since March, 654,731 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida, and 12,326 have died from it, according to the DOH.
More than 41,000 eating and drinking establishments in Florida employ more than 1 million people, about 12 percent of the state’s workforce. The establishments generated $50.1 billion in sales in 2018, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association said.
Of those 41,000-plus establishments, industry researcher IbisWorld said about 3,300 are bars that don’t serve food and estimated they employ 25,000 people, generating $2 billion in annual revenue.
The Florida Brewers Guild warned in June more than 100 of the state’s 320 craft brewers soon would go bankrupt and 10,000 workers would lose their jobs.
DeSantis said the 50 percent capacity restriction on restaurants is “arbitrary,” noting restaurant operators and customers now know enough about the virus to use common sense.
“I think a lot of the restaurants are going to be able to make sense of some of this stuff as we look to have more capacity,” DeSantis said. “I think that we’re getting to a situation where people are starting to feel a little more comfortable – at least, I hope so.”
DeSantis acknowledged bar owners’ complaints that restaurants are open and selling alcohol while they cannot do so unless they regear to emphasize food, which many bars apparently were doing, with the proverbial crockpot of hot dogs furnishing visual, if not substantive, compliance.
“We actually had bars open the whole time,” DeSantis said. “But we had some who ended up in a situation that wasn’t ideal from their perspective.”
“Obviously,” he said, “we saw some outbreaks linked to bars in Florida,” but this time, he said, it will be different.
“Moving forward,” Beshears said, “we’re going to look at the bad actors, that’s it – so not everyone gets punished.”
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