As Florida Reopens, Some Business Owners Are Taking It Slow

Florida has had more than 45,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus resulting in more than 2,000 deaths, according to statistics provided by the state Tuesday

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Despite reopenings throughout Florida, some cities and businesses are hesitant about welcoming the public, saying they want to take things slow due to lingering safety concerns.

It's a delicate balance, especially for small business owners who have been closed since mid-March. Some say too many unknowns still exist. Miami Beach and the city of Miami are delaying opening retail, hair salons and barbershops until later this week and restaurants until later this month, but elsewhere, many businesses are allowed to reopen.

Some aren't, however.

“We feel it’s best for us at this time to remain completely contactless indefinitely,” Sarah Weaver, co-owner of Bandit Coffee in St. Petersburg, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Weaver said the health of her staff is top priority as she considers bringing back furloughed employees.

“It’s in the nature of coffee shops for folks to sit for hours. I understand that folks want a change of scenery and a place to work that isn’t their couch. Service workers don’t have this option at all, though. They still deserve a safe place to work whenever and however possible,” she said.

About 1.5 million Florida residents have filed unemployment claims since March 15, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity, and its unemployment website has failed repeatedly with the surge. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has acknowledged the problems several times. On Tuesday, he said the system is like a jalopy trying to compete in the Daytona 500.

“This is still not the best designed system,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “Since March 15, the Department of Economic Opportunity has paid out $2.659 billion. ... The department has paid out more money in the last 10 weeks than it had in the previous five years combined.”

Florida has had more than 45,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus resulting in more than 2,000 deaths, according to statistics provided by the state Tuesday. And as state and local officials tout infection rates declining, a children's hospital in Miami reported Tuesday what could be the first cases of a rare inflammatory syndrome affecting some children with the coronavirus.

Both patients are in the pediatric ICU but showing signs of improvement, Jackson Health System said in an email statement.

COVID-19 is far less common in children than adults, and doctors say most infected children develop only mild symptoms. But New York State has been seeing more cases of this mysterious syndrome, which affects blood vessels and organs and has symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.

The concentration of cases in South Florida and lingering questions surrounding the novel coronavirus still worry officials and business owners in certain districts as governments try to restart the economy.

In Miami, Erik Lopez, a jewelry designer, said he was conflicted about opening his store Monday. He ultimately decided to show solidarity with the business community, opening along with a nail salon, a hairdresser next door and right across from a barbershop in a busy thoroughfare of the affluent Coral Gables neighborhood. The store had no visitors the first morning.

“I am torn. Obviously as a business owner, I want people to come. But the humanitarian side of me says ‘No, don’t. Stay at home. Stay safe. Don’t go out,’” he said. “I am here because my community requests that I be here."

One man who recovered from the virus understands the need to balance the economy and public health.

Leo Begazo, a nurse from Ruskin — a suburb of Tampa — started feeling unwell March 16 and the virus took hold of his health and wouldn’t let go. By early April, he was admitted into the hospital and stayed for 18 days of treatment, having tested positive for coronavirus.

Hospital officials said his health declined rapidly, and he was placed on a ventilator for six days. His wife and their two children also tested positive for the virus, and his wife was hospitalized as well, but without the need of a ventilator. He had hypothyroidism that had been under control for 15 years but said he had no other preexisting conditions. Hypothyroidism isn't a known risk factor for coronavirus.

Even though he finally has tested negative for the virus and was discharged on April 23, he suffers lingering effects. The 47-year-old is still on oxygen. He doesn’t think it’s a bad idea that the economy reopens but implores people to take safety precautions such as wearing masks.

“The problem is the people are not respecting this,” he said. “Just seeing how people are acting outside on the street, without masks, sneezing, coughing. I can’t believe people don’t realize how serious this is.”

This week, he had a follow-up X-ray and went through a drive-through for a cup of coffee afterward. From the passenger seat, he spotted one of the workers inside wearing a mask on her chin, not over her nose and mouth.

“I had to intervene,” he said, adding that he leaned over and asked the server, “Can you tell your co-worker to cover her mouth while she’s making the drink? The mask is not to cover her chin. See this oxygen? I almost died of corona.”


Gomez Licon reported from Miami.


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