Bars in Florida will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity starting Monday, but the mayor of Miami-Dade says bars in the county will remain closed.
At the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears issued an emergency order Thursday rescinding a previous order that halted the sale of alcohol at bars, an agency news release said.
“In meetings with hundreds of owners of bars and breweries across the state, I’ve heard their stories of struggle, and I’ve observed their serious commitment to making health and safety a continuing priority in their businesses,” Beshears said in a statement. “It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital that we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic.”
After the announcement, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez made it clear that the county's bars would remain closed.
"Even though the State of Florida is planning to allow bars to open again, Miami-Dade County’s bars will remain closed by emergency order until further notice," Gimenez tweeted late Thursday. "Our County continues to monitor this evolving situation as it works to tamp down COVID-19 cases."
Officials in Palm Beach County announced their bars would also remain closed until an order is issued by the county.
In an earlier Zoom interview, Gimenez hinted that strip clubs may possibly reopen before bars, suggesting that strip clubs were less risky than bars and nightclubs in the spread of COVID-19.
“Nightclubs are something you do dancing and drinking and etc.,” Gimenez said. “I don’t believe that’s what happens at a strip club.”
At strip clubs, certain social distancing guidelines are in place, according to County Deputy Mayor Jennifer Moon. Customers are required to be seated at tables at a certain distance away from the entertainers.
For bar owners like Philippe Kalifa of El Patio in Wynwood, the idea that strip clubs are safer than bars is "very frustrating."
“What we don’t understand is why you can go in a restaurant, take off your mask and eat your food, but you can’t come in bar, take off your mask and have a drink?" Kalifa said.
On the other hand, one exotic dancer told NBC 6 that it shouldn’t matter when strip clubs reopen as long as they’re safe.
“As long as we wear our masks, I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Jeremiah said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal for us to get close to the girls and give a full dance.”
For now, there is no reopening date in South Florida for bars or strip clubs.
DeSantis said earlier Thursday he was planning to soon ease restrictions imposed on the state's restaurants. He told a meeting of restaurant industry executives in Fort Myers that the current limitation of 50% capacity for indoor dining and requiring that tables be kept 6 feet apart seems arbitrary.
“Why 50 and not 40? Why 50 and not 70? And then the 6-foot is not evidence-based, per se. The World Health Organization says 3-foot distance. In Asia, they are doing less than that. I think they do 2, two-and-a-half feet. Europe does less than 6. Are they not doing science or are we not doing science?" DeSantis said.
DeSantis suggested eateries will know best how to govern their behavior as they don’t want to scare off customers by becoming coronavirus hot spots.
“Just have some common sense on how you are doing it,” DeSantis said. He gave no specifics on when the restrictions would be eased, but said it would be soon.
DeSantis also said he supported the European and Brazilian travel restrictions, but they “have served their purpose.”
“I have told the president we would like to see those lifted,” said DeSantis, who is a strong Trump ally. He said he sees no difference if someone travels across the border from Georgia to visit Florida than if they arrive by plane from a foreign country. “I am comfortable with it.”
Meanwhile, the state reported 213 new deaths Thursday, the highest daily total in more than three weeks. That brings Florida's overall death toll to 12,482. The latest update, which would include deaths over several previous days, brings the average daily reported fatalities over the past week up to 97. Only Texas with an average of 117 deaths per day over the past week has a higher number. It has about 50% more residents.
Over the past two months, Florida has averaged 133 reported COVID-19 deaths per day. That would make the disease the state's biggest killer during that period — cancer and heart disease each average about 125 deaths per day, according to the health department.
The number of people being treated in Florida hospitals for the disease continued a seven-week downward trend, following peaks of more than 9,500 in late July. There were 2,922 patients being treated in the late morning Thursday, according to a hospital census posted online by the state, down from 3,075 the previous morning.
Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro contributed to this report.