It was the happiest hour of 2020 for bars across South Florida on Sunday, as the businesses were back on tap after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered their doors for six months.
"Honestly we didn’t expect anything to happen for another week or so," Michele Penrod, owner of Fort Lauderdale's Elbo Room, said.
The decision to reopen bars and nightclubs was an unexpected one. On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis moved the state into the third phase of reopening, lifting all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in Florida, and allowing restaurants across the state to immediately reopen at full capacity. The decision prevents cities and counties from ordering businesses to close or operate at less than half-capacity, unless they can justify a closure for economic or health reasons.
The governor also barred cities and counties from collecting fines on people who violate social distancing rules or don’t wear face masks.
Hours later, Broward County Mayor Dale Holness signed an executive order allowing all businesses, including bars, to reopen. But, in the order, the mayor said some local jurisdictions retained the right to impose some social distancing guidelines or restrictions.
Penrod says there is a sense of relief but also confusion amongst bar owners about how to reopen.
"We don’t know what to do, what the rules are," Penrod said.
Her business has been a gathering spot for disgruntled bar owners and employees who protested against South Florida's closures.
As of Sunday, Florida surpassed 700,000 coronavirus cases, according to figures released by the state's Department of Health.
In Broward County, there were 76,854 COVID-19 cases reported, a daily increase of about 150, along with 1,379 virus-related deaths.
Miami-Dade had 169,426 cases, an increase of about 280 since Saturday, along with 3,231 COVID-related deaths.