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Restaurants, bars could face restrictions as coronavirus containment escalates

Margie Manning

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Photo by Shawn Ang on Unsplash

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he is waiting on guidance from the federal Centers on Disease Control before making a determination on business operations for Florida restaurants and bars.

The governor of Illinois on Sunday ordered all restaurants and bars to close for inside dining for two weeks, and officials in other states are considering similar moves to contain the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.

“People have said just close all restaurants. I don’t know that I’m convinced that that would be necessary, but I do think in areas of the country you’ve seen municipalities say there needs to be a certain amount of distance between each table, maybe have a 50 percent limit (on seating capacity). I think that would be something that would be more feasible, and it also would make a difference by having people spaced out enough,” DeSantis said at a Sunday evening news conference. “But we’re going to work through that and put out our guidance on that after the CDC weighs in.”

DeSantis acknowledged that not every part of Florida is in the same situation when it comes to crowds in bars and restaurants.

“I think it’s best to promulgate some general recommendations. Then local communities can tailor it to their specific situations within reason,” he said. “But to do nothing and let the good times roll, that would not be in the best interest of a lot of folks in the state of Florida.”

DeSantis said  the cities of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale were doing the right thing in imposing some closures and curfews at public beaches. He expects to see other municipalities follow suit.

The restrictions come as many people, including college students, travel to Florida for spring break.

“I understand kids want stuff to do. When I was 18 or 19, I probably would have said this ain’t gonna affect me, so I understand the mindset. But I think it’s incumbent on us to be working together – local, state and hopefully with the CDC’s guidance – to circumscribe the ability to have some of these really large gatherings,” DeSantis said. “Missing out on staying out and drinking at a bar, that is not the end of the world. You’re going to have time to do that the rest of your life. What you don’t want is to be somebody who is helping to spread this illness, particularly if the virus ends up infecting people that are frail and that maybe not have immune systems that are capable of dealing with it.”

DeSantis said the state is working in a public-private partnership with Memorial Health Care System and the Florida National Guard in Broward County to establish drive-through testing operations. There are more coronavirus cases cases in Broward, which includes Fort Lauderdale, than anywhere else in the state, he said.

Other testing sites might be established elsewhere in the state, DeSantis said.

He spoke earlier Sunday to John Couris, CEO of Tampa General Hospital, and George Hanbury, president of Nova Southeastern University,  as well as Todd Jones, CEO of Publix Super Markets, and praised Publix’ decision to close stores earlier than usual for cleaning and restocking shelves.

DeSantis also sent a letter to the Small Business Administration, asking for help for Florida’s small business.

“A lot of attention has been paid to a lot of the big cruise lines, the big airlines, and those are important industries, but we’re going to have a lot of small businesses that are impacted. These are people who are working hard, didn’t make any bad business decisions, and they’re suffering negative consequences because of a totally external event,” DeSantis said. “I think we want to make sure that we’re there for our small business folks.”

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