FLORIDA: BUSINESS RESTRICTIONS LIFTED, RESTAURANTS OPEN, MASK FINES DISAPPEAR

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday all restaurants can operate at full capacity — regardless of local government rules — as part of Florida moving into Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan.

Speaking from The Birchwood, a St. Petersburg hotel that includes a restaurant and popular rooftop bar, on Friday afternoon, DeSantis said effective immediately the state would lift all restrictions on restaurant and retail store capacity. Restaurants can operate at a minimum of 50% capacity, the governor said, regardless of more restrictive local rules, reports Fox 13. The new order forbids cities and counties from ordering restaurants to close unless they can justify the closure for economic or health reasons.

“Every business has a right to operate…you can’t just say ‘no’ after six months and have people twisting in the wind,” DeSantis told reporters.

“They have to provide justification, and they have to identify what the costs of doing that are,” DeSantis continued.

On Thursday, DeSantis hinted that a big announcement regarding the state’s lockdown orders may be coming, telling reporters while there is a risk of further spreading the virus, “we can’t have these businesses dying.”

“I don’t think that the closure of restaurants has proven to be effective,” DeSantis said “I get how you could potentially have spread there.…But we can’t have these businesses dying. So, they’re not going to be able to be closed by locals anymore. And they will be able to operate at the capacity that they’re comfortable with.”

This month, Florida also allowed bars to once again serve drinks for on-site consumption. During the height of the pandemic, they were forced to close twice in Florida but have been reopened since Sept. 14 with 50% capacity.

The order also states cities and counties can’t collect on any outstanding fines they issued as part of their pandemic response. The order, though, doesn’t compel local governments to refund anyone who has already paid a fine, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

Strip clubs, many of which continued to serve food since they were shuttered in March, will be able to provide entertainment. Auditoriums, bingo parlors, and comedy clubs will also be allowed to reopen at limited capacity, reports the Palm Beach Post.

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