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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 26, 202004:43 PM EST

DeSantis addresses on-site alcohol ban, increase in COVID-19 cases

Restaurants still can serve alcohol if they derive 50% or less of revenue from it.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

As the state’s COVID-19 cases spike, a statewide order by Florida regulators to halt onsite alcohol consumption at bars applies to any business that derives 50% or more of its revenue from alcoholic beverages.

The executive order issued June 26 by Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears does not apply to restaurants that get 50% or less or their revenue from alcoholic beverages, according to the order posted on the department’s website. 

Bars still are allowed to sell to-go beverages in sealed containers for customers to drink off-site. The order took effect immediately and has no end date.

The announcement initially came in a tweet from Beshears’s official account, followed by an identical notice on the Florida DBPR’s official Twitter account.

In his order, Beshears linked the recent increase in the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases to bars and younger Floridians not following health and social distancing guidelines.

“Some of these cases involving younger individuals are expected to have originated from visits to bars, pubs, or nightclubs who have disregarded the restrictions set forth in Phase 2” of Florida’s statewide reopening, the order states.

The order states that “noncompliance by bars and other vendors’ licensed to sell alcohol beverages for consumption on the premises” is too widespread to enforce on an case-by-case basis. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the ban when asked by reporters during a June 26 news conference at Lee Health’s Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers.

DeSantis attributed the spike and the need for the order to the 24-35 age demographic that has shown the biggest increase in confirmed cases since the beginning of June.

The governor said younger people “want to be social” and  are not following the social distancing and mask-wearing recommendations from the Florida Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“When people follow the guidelines, we’ve not had any problems,” DeSantis said. “You’ve not had any issues. The reason why DBPR (issued the order) is because you had people that weren’t following it. There was widespread noncompliance and that led to issues. So, if folks just follow the guidelines, we’re going to be in good shape. If you part from that, it’s going to be problematic.”

DeSantis noted the downward trend in May and early June in Florida. Positive COVID-19 tests were 2.27% on May 17. 

The state’s order follows a similar move by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who ordered bars closed and restaurants to reduce seating capacity to 50%, according to NPR. 

The latest data

The ban coincides with another jump in daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida and in Duval County. The Florida Department of Health reported 8,942 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in a 24-hour period from tests reported June 25 

In a news release June 26, the health department reported 39 new deaths related to COVID-19. The state has seen 122,960 cases and 3,366 deaths in Florida since data collection on the virus began in late February. 

Another 446 cases were reported June 26 in Duval County. Locally, there have been 64 deaths related to the virus, according to state health officials.

The median age of those tested and found to be infected with the virus has been declining since May. It is now 31 years old in Duval County, according to the state’s COVID-19 reporting. At the beginning of the pandemic, testing focused on the state’s older adult and immunodeficient populations.

In Duval County, the percentage hit a peak June 25 of 14.1% of tests returning positive. That’s up from 3.3% on June 12. 

The six-week cumulative percentage of positive tests in Duval County, a metric often cited by Mayor Lenny Curry as an indicator of flattening the curve, also is on the rise: 4.6% on June 26 compared with below 2% at the end of May.

Statewide, 6.9% tests returned positive.

No mandate for masks

DeSantis again resisted calls to issue a statewide order to mandate wearing face masks in public places. When asked by reporters, he said the order would “backfire.”

“The idea that you’re going to mandate and selectively prosecute people, I’d don’t think that’s necessarily going to work. I do think what will work is consistent messaging, letting people know what they can do to protect themselves and protect others,” DeSantis said.

 Before the governor’s news conference, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried released a statement calling for a statewide order requiring people wear face masks.

“With 31,299 new cases in the past week alone, Florida has emerged as a new hotspot for COVID-19. While this pandemic threatens to spiral out of control, our leadership is rushing headlong into further re-opening the state. We must take basic protective measures immediately. That’s why today, I am calling on the Governor to issue a statewide order requiring masks to be worn in public places,” Fried said.

“This is common sense, violates no one’s liberties, and follows the lead of 18 other states like North Carolina, Kentucky, and New York. If we’re to beat this virus together, we must all act together, with all Floridians doing their part.”

Fried is Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat and a member of DeSantis’s cabinet.

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