Ron DeSantis is allowing bars and restaurants to reopen at full capacity, in direct violation of safety standards meant to control the spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted restrictions on businesses statewide amid a renewed uptick in coronavirus cases in the state. The move openly defies the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Florida surpassed 700,000 cases of the virus on Sunday, second only to California and Texas. More than 14,000 Floridians have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.
DeSantis said Friday that bars and restaurants across the state will be allowed to operate at full capacity, as Florida enters phase 3 of the state reopening plan.
"What that means for restaurants is that there will not be limitations in the state of Florida," DeSantis said in his announcement. "I think this will be very important to the industry."
The governor's reopening order supersedes local restrictions, meaning that counties in Florida will not be able to restrict businesses to operate below 50% capacity without state approval.
While Florida's overall coronavirus cases have decreased since the pandemic's peak in July, CDC guidelines for entering phase 3 recommend a "near-zero" incidence of documented cases for at least 14 days. But when DeSantis announced the reopening on Friday, the state was on its 115th consecutive day of reporting 1,000 or more cases statewide, with 2,847 new cases and 120 deaths reported on Friday alone.
CDC recommendations for phase 3 also include near-zero incidences of COVID-19 hospitalizations. But according to the Tampa Bay Times, on Thursday about 2,200 people in Florida were hospitalized with COVID-19. Among adults age 30 or older, cases have also begun to slowly increase in all counties except Miami-Dade County.
In March, as most of the country went into lockdown, DeSantis refused to close Florida's beaches for spring break. In July, at the peak of the pandemic in the state, Florida theme parks including Disney World were allowed to reopen. And in August, as college students returned to campus, the state saw another sharp increase in cases among young adults, with about 500 new cases being diagnosed every day among 18- to 22-year-olds.
Despite pleas by other Florida officials, DeSantis has categorically refused to issue a statewide masking order. He went even further on Friday, banning mask fines and lifting all fines statewide for anyone who had previously incurred penalties for violating local mask ordinances.
"I think we need to get away from trying to penalize people for not social distancing and work with people constructively," DeSantis said on Friday.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber expressed his frustration at the governor's refusal to require Floridians to wear face masks in public.
"What it seems to do is it's a political decision, not something to protect people," Gelber said. "First of all, the mask requirement is helping us open up our economy. Eliminating it doesn’t just endanger people, but endangers our opening. He's trying to follow Trump’s example the best he can."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.