Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is lifting statewide capacity restrictions for bars and restaurants put in place to slow the COVID-19 pandemic by moving the state into phase 3 of reopening.
DeSantis announced the policy change during a news conference Sept. 25 in St. Petersburg.
His executive order goes into effect immediately and prohibits cities and counties from closing businesses because of the pandemic or restricting occupant capacity to below 50%.
DeSantis said local governments can limit businesses from 51% to 99% capacity but will have to justify the need to state officials. The order also suspends any fines or penalties placed on businesses and individuals for previous capacity violations.
“They can have reasonable regulations, but you just can’t say ‘no’ and have people twisting in the wind,” DeSantis said.
No local restrictions, including the mask mandate, will be impacted by the governor's order, Mayor Lenny Curry said in an emailed statement Sept. 25.
"Duval County currently has no restrictive orders in place impacted by the Governor’s decision to move into phase 3," Curry said. "We continue to commend Governor Desantis in his smart and safe approach to reopening our state. We ask for the continued vigilance of our citizens and establishments that helped slow the spread of COVID-19."
Reported coronavirus transmission in Florida and the percentage of positive test results have been declining in recent weeks, although COVID-19 rates are climbing in the U.S. as a whole.
The state added 2,851 new cases Sept. 24, according to the Florida Department of Health. The percentage of people tested who were positive for the virus fell from 4.49% to 4.29% Sept. 23.
The U.S. saw a 17% increase in COVID-19 cases over the 14-day period ending Sept. 24, according to The New York Times tracker. Deaths also have increased in the U.S. by 5% in the past two weeks, nearing 203,000.
DeSantis moved Florida into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s phase 2 June 5, at the time excluding Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Southeast Florida has since moved into phase 2 and is not excluded from the phase 3 order.
DeSantis said Sept. 25 that he sees lifting restrictions as a necessary move for the economy and the restaurant and hospitality industry.
“The idea that government dictating this is better than them making these decisions so that their customers have confidence, I think is misplaced,” DeSantis said. “I’ve gone to many restaurants over the last many months and they take this obligation seriously, they want customers to have confidence and they have every incentive to do that.”
The governor said hospital capacity statewide would be ready for a resurgence of the virus. But he told reporters in St. Petersburg that Florida is “not closing anything moving forward.”
DeSantis encouraged professional sports teams, including the NFL, and outdoor music venues to begin allowing spectators. The governor also said he intends to host a “full Super Bowl” in February. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins have allowed reduced attendance at their home games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not.