Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced Friday that the state would move forward with reopening plans despite the spread of the coronavirus.
Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan includes lifting restrictions, including capacity limits, on the state’s bars, nightclubs and restaurants. In addition, under Phase 3, businesses that have had staffs teleworking as a result of the pandemic are allowed to resume unrestricted staffing on site, employees can resume nonessential travel, theme parks are able to return to normal operations, and gyms and fitness centers can operate at full capacity.
While the order affects food establishments, DeSantis said many of those have been operating in the state as usual.
"Every business has a right to operate ... you can’t just say no after six months and have people twisting in the wind,” DeSantis said at a press conference in St. Petersburg.
According to Florida’s Phase 3 plan, there are no requirements for social distancing or sanitary precautions, and all penalties for refusing to wear face masks in the state have been suspended.
In addition, the governor barred local governments from closing businesses or collecting fines related to pandemic-mandated requirements.
Florida was one of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus. Since March 1, Florida has had more than 695,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 14,083 deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Florida ranks third, behind California and Texas, respectively, in the number of reported cases, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics.
At its peak in July, the COVID-19 outbreak in Florida prompted the governor to close bars and restrict restaurants to takeout operations only. As a result, the unemployment rate rose to 11.3% in the state.
DeSantis said he was moving forward with reopening because coronavirus survival rates in the state were up to 94% and hospitalizations as a result of the virus were down. However, recent data indicate there has been little change in the pattern of confirmed cases and deaths in the Southern U.S. state.