Officials in Broward County have decided to roll back some coronavirus regulations in response to improvements in the county's infection rate, Mayor Dale V.C. Holness announced Friday.
The relentless messaging about wearing masks and social distancing seems to be working: the county's COVID-19 positivity rate has been below 5% for more than two weeks.
"I'd like to start by thanking the people of Broward County for following the orders that we have issued and doing what we need to do to prevent the spread of coronavirus," the mayor said at a news conference Friday morning.
"I'm proud of the people of Broward County. We're all in this together, and COVID has taught us this," Holness said. "What affects one can and often does affect the other."
As a result, Holness said, the county would be making adjustments to loosen some of its public health guidelines. The changes include:
- Banquet facilities and other function spaces can operate at 50% capacity, with certain restrictions still in place (such as no more than 100 people allowed in a room)
- Non-professional organized athletic activities with spectators, such as high school and little league games, can operate with some restrictions still in place
- Restaurant counters can be used for seating, though no liquor can be sold to patrons there
- Children under 17 can now be grouped together in groups larger than 10 at daycare facilities
- Restaurant and food establishments can have billiard and other games operating inside the facility
- Apartment complexes and homeowners associations may now allow residents to invite guests; complexes and associations also no longer need to have someone on-site while the pool is being used
- Restaurants can have live performers, provided those performers be at least 10 feet away from guests, and patrons must wear masks when not seated at their tables
- Non-organized sports at parks will now be allowed for groups of up to 10 people, though masks must be worn while not actively engaging in the sports activity
All these changes are effective immediately, with the exception of allowing banquet halls and event spaces to open, which will take effect on Oct. 2.
Mayor Holness noted that bars and clubs will remain closed at this time, and that he hopes several voting centers can be turned into drive-by ballot drop-off locations soon.
“And have a safe, fair election and get our children back into schools so our bars and our clubs are not gonna be open at this point in time,” Holness said, adding that bars and clubs are still considered virus spreader environments.
However, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order moving the state into Phase 3 allows bars to open. So Broward County attorneys are now trying to interpret the order to see if it applies to the county. DeSantis implied Friday that South Florida counties can still require stricter mandates because the outbreak has been so much more severe here than other parts of the state. However, the governor also said local counties can no longer enforce mask mandates, so there’s confusions which must be cleared up.
Also Friday, in a COVID-19 roundtable webinar, the CEO of the Broward Health hospital group said his five hospitals have treated 3,200 COVID-19 patients with nearly a 90% success rate.
“We’ve tried different protocols and because of that, the physicians and the pharmacists together over the last seven months, the survivability rate has improved significantly,” said Gino Santorio, Broward Health’s CEO.
Broward County Public Schools superintendent Robert Runcie was part of the webinar. When asked about reopening schools, he acknowledged fear and anxiety among some teachers.
“We can’t open schools unless we have adults that are actually gonna be there, just simple reality that we face, we’ve always stated the conditions under which we would open schools and you know, no one really said much about it until the day arrives and you’re faced with that reality,” Runcie said.
Runcie was alluding to the Broward Teachers Union raising objections to the school district’s reopening plans. The superintendent says accommodations will be worked out for teachers who have health issues.