Florida governor moves state into phase 3 reopening

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced at a Sept. 25 press conference that the state is moving into phase 3 of its recovery plan. The biggest change is that restaurants are now allowed to operate at full capacity.

ST. PETERSBURG — Gov. Ron DeSantis chose the Birchwood hotel in St. Petersburg as the site for a Sept. 25 press conference to announce that the state was moving into phase 3 of his “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step Plan” for reopening the state’s economy effective immediately.

Florida’s restaurants are the biggest beneficiary of the new order that allows them to open at full capacity. In addition, DeSantis will be issuing an executive order that requires local governments to allow restaurants to operate at a minimum of 50% capacity. Restrictions that reduce operating capacity below 100% must be justified.

The governor said the state’s economy had been slower to recover due in part to local restrictions. He said the restaurant industry had been hit very hard. He believes that orders the government puts in place are less effective than measures restaurants would use to make their customers confident that they were a safe place to dine.

He said it is time to lift restrictions.

“We are saying in the state of Florida everybody has an opportunity and the right to work,” DeSantis said. “Every business has the right to operate.”

Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, joined the governor at the press conference.

“Florida’s hospitality industry has been decimated by COVID-19,” she said. “This has been a crisis like we have never seen before. Businesses have closed, and more than 336,000 people have lost work in our industry. The effects on our local and state economy have been significant.”

According to the recent unemployment report from the state Department of Economic Opportunity, the industry losing the most jobs over the year in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area was leisure and hospitality with a loss of 34,400 jobs.

JT Corrales, director of business development at Crabby Bills, thanked the governor for his help.

“Today is a big step for us in the restaurant industry in the road to recovery. I think this gives us a real fighting chance.”

Bars will remain at status quo for now. DeSantis said any decision to allow them to operate at a capacity above 50% would be a local decision.

DeSantis justified moving into phase 3 by pointing to the significant decline in COVID-19 cases and positivity rates since July. He said experts are confident that hospitals can respond to any future increases. He said hospitals now had too much capacity and encouraged those that have not sought out treatment to do so.

He encouraged parents to take their children in for their immunizations. He is concerned about the impact of the pandemic on mental health and the fight against opioid addiction.

He said focusing on only one pathogen was an ineffective public health strategy.

Moving into phase 3 will have little effect on other industries that are now operating with only minimum restrictions. All industries must continue to use sanitation measures and minimum social distancing. DeSantis supports allowing fans to attend sporting events, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers games; however, he said that decision was up to the league.

He said there is little evidence to show that outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is a major concern. He wants to show that the state is able to host the Super Bowl in February. The governor said musicians should be able to perform in front of an audience, especially in outdoor venues.

If there is an increase in COVID-19 cases in the future, the state had the tools to deal with it without imposing a shutdown, DeSantis said. He said so far no place had experienced a second wave, but if it happens, the state is prepared.

DeSantis will continue to focus on protections for the state’s most vulnerable, including seniors and those with chronic medical conditions.

He said the virus isn’t expected to go away, even after a vaccine become available, so it is important to continue to put resources towards the state’s long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

“The fact that we’re continuing to move forward with the economy doesn’t mean the virus had disappeared,” he said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.