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Bars ordered to close in midst of another record-breaking day of COVID-19 cases

Jaymi Butler

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COVID-19
Test sites at the Mahaffey Theater and Tropicana Field are seeing robust testing.

On-premises consumption at alcohol in bars has been suspended statewide, effective immediately, according to a tweet from Secretary of Department of Business and Professional Regulation Halsey Beshears.

The news came shortly after the state reported 8,942 new cases of COVID-19, breaking the single-day record of infections set Wednesday. Pinellas County also recorded a record total of 430 newly confirmed cases.

At a press conference in Ft. Myers Friday afternoon, Governor Ron DeSantis made a brief mention of the alcohol suspension but spent most of his time talking numbers. 

“What we’re seeing today, there’s obviously a lot of news saying a huge number of quote ‘cases,’” he said. “Really, nothing has changed in the past week. We had a big test dump.”

Ten to 15 percent of people have been testing positive for the last week, DeSantis said, a “huge change” from the beginning of June when the numbers were three to four percent in terms of positivity statewide.

“We obviously liked where we were throughout all of May and early June, in terms of positivity, better,” DeSantis said. “We are doing more tests. The last week of May, we were getting about 24,000 test results a day, and in the last seven days, we’ve gotten 45,000 test results per day.”

DeSantis said that the higher numbers among the 18-35 age group are being driven by community transmission, especially by those who are asymptomatic. That group may not be as inclined to take the precautions outlined by health officials. 

“With younger people partying at somebody’s house or something, they’re probably not wearing masks. Let’s just be honest with that,” he said. “You’d need to change the behavior there which I think would be great.”

Having too many people close together in indoor spaces was one of the contributing factors to DeSantis’ comments Tuesday that said that bars and restaurants not following the state’s reopening guidelines could risk losing their liquor licenses. As of Tuesday, Beshears said there had been 106 complaints statewide about bars and restaurants violating state guidelines. One bar in Orlando that was tied to 41 cases of COVID-19 had its liquor license suspended Monday night.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Beshears said that his order to suspend on-premise alcohol sales in bars was prompted by rising COVID-19 numbers and noncompliance with previous orders.

The newly enacted order requires businesses deriving more than 50 percent of their gross revenue from the sale of alcohol immediately stop selling it, although they may still sell alcohol to go. Restaurants, on the other hand, are allowed to serve alcohol as long as it’s not their main revenue source.

As the numbers continue to rise, U.S. Representative Charlie Crist called for more deliberate action from DeSantis.

“Immediate and aggressive steps are needed to protect the health and safety of all Floridians,” he said in a statement. “I’m calling on Governor DeSantis to take decisive action, based on the best available medical advice, to bring the spread under control. It’s clear that the current strategy isn’t working and time is of the essence.”

DeSantis echoed previous statements about not issuing a mandate for mask wearing, opting for an educational approach to why it’s important and allowing people to make good decisions.

To put criminal penalties on that is something that would probably backfire,” he said. “You’ve seen some localities require it and they’re going to have to figure the long arm of the law to enforce it or not.”

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