Gov. Ron DeSantis is expanding Florida’s first phase of reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, by allowing a number of popular gathering places and entertainment venues to operate at twice the current capacity.
Speaking Friday in Jacksonville, the governor announced that restaurants and retail stores may expand from 25% to 50% capacity as of Monday.
“And a lot of that is based on the spacing of the tables; or if you have some type of partition,” said the governor. “I’ve had some restauranteurs tell me, ‘Hey, my booths, I can’t move them, but I have Plexiglas.’ That’s fine; that’s effective. All we’re trying to do is create a low-risk environment.”
DeSantis also offered praise to restaurant owners who have been thinking how to handle the new norm in serving their customers in light of COVID-19 precautions.
“A lot stayed open to do takeout, but some didn’t; and some are more conducive to dine-in, that’s just what they have to do,” said DeSantis. “The outdoor seating has been interesting; you’ve had some cities where they’ve closed parts of the streets so people can have more room to do more outdoors. And that’s just based off the science, that this thing is not as transmissible outdoors as indoors in an enclosed environment.”
This can be done in a safe manner, contends DeSantis. Other states adopted the rules right off the bat. The governor says the initial plan by his coronavirus task force was for an initial 50% capacity.
“I wanted to ease into it, but I really think that [the task force] really thought well about it,” said the governor. “So that will be effective on Monday. And the same with retail – we started off with 25% of indoor capacity, and go to 50%. There’s very clear guidance from CDC and OSHA.”
A lot of retailers have remained open throughout the onset of the virus, which isn’t lost on the governor.
“There’s not a whole lot of difference to me between going into a Home Depot and going into a JoAnn Fabric or some of these other places,” said DeSantis. “And particularly for our smaller ‘Mom and Pop’ retailers, [it’s] very, very important for them to be able to have safe options for their customers.”
Museums and libraries, as of Monday, can also operate at half-capacity, but that will be the call of local governments. The same capacity limit also applies to gyms and fitness centers, which DeSantis believes are vital to protecting against coronavirus – especially when the workouts are outdoors.
“Think about it – this is a respiratory virus that tends to attack people who have some health problems or aren’t in as good physical condition,” the governor said. “Don’t we want people to be getting exercise? Don’t we want people to stay in shape? It’s going to actually make them more resistant to severe consequences.”
One of the highest-profile areas affected by COVID-19 is sports. Programs from youth leagues and colleges, up to the pros, either suspended or cancelled parts or all of their seasons because of the pandemic. But the governor says there could be some changes on the horizon.
“I know the NBA in some of these places are thinking about getting back in; go ahead and train, no problem,” said DeSantis. “And once the season starts, you’re going to be able to use our venues. We want you playing.”
One prime example is the welcome mat Florida has put out for the Ultimate Fighting Championship — UFC— which had offered to put on matches in empty arenas in California and other places that wouldn’t allow it.
“And I’m thinking to myself, ‘OK, they want to fight in an empty arena, they test the people before they go, that’s as low-risk as you get,’” said DeSantis. “We reached out to the UFC and said, ‘Guys, come.’ And I think it’s been very successful. And now what happens is, UFC knows they have a welcome environment here in the state of Florida.”
Also in the works is a reopening of amusement and theme parks in Florida. But first, they must submit their plans to the state.
“They should identify the dates certain that they believe they can resume safe operations,” said Gov. DeSantis. “They have to provide how they’re going to do it; how they’re going to accommodate the guests, protect the staff, and then they’re going to need an endorsement from the relevant official in their locality – Orange County mayor, whoever you’re talking about.”
That just about wraps up phase one of Florida’s reopening plan, except for movie theaters, which DeSantis says will remain closed for now. At issue, he says, is that they are enclosed places with little if any opportunity for social distancing.