FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - Florida bars will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity starting Monday, state officials announced Thursday.
At the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears issued an emergency order rescinding a previous order that halted the sale of alcohol at bars, an agency news release said.
“In meetings with hundreds of owners of bars and breweries across the state, I’ve heard their stories of struggle, and I’ve observed their serious commitment to making health and safety a continuing priority in their businesses,” Beshears said in a statement. “It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital that we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic.”
DeSantis said earlier Thursday he was planning to soon ease restrictions imposed on the state’s restaurants. He told a meeting of restaurant industry executives in Fort Myers that the current limitation of 50% capacity for indoor dining and requiring that tables be kept 6 feet (2 meters) apart seems arbitrary.
“Why 50 and not 40? Why 50 and not 70? And then the 6-foot is not evidence-based, per se. The World Health Organization says 3-foot distance. In Asia, they are doing less than that. I think they do 2, two-and-a-half feet. Europe does less than 6. Are they not doing science or are we not doing science?” DeSantis said.
DeSantis suggested eateries will know best how to govern their behavior as they don’t want to scare off customers by becoming coronavirus hot spots.
“Just have some common sense on how you are doing it,” DeSantis said. He gave no specifics on when the restrictions would be eased, but said it would be soon.
DeSantis also said he supported the European and Brazilian travel restrictions, but they “have served their purpose.”
“I have told the president we would like to see those lifted,” said DeSantis, who is a strong Trump ally. He said he sees no difference if someone travels across the border from Georgia to visit Florida than if they arrive by plane from a foreign country. “I am comfortable with it.”
Meanwhile, the state reported 213 new deaths Thursday, the highest daily total in more than three weeks. That brings Florida’s overall death toll to 12,482. The latest update, which would include deaths over several previous days, brings the average daily reported fatalities over the past week up to 97. Only Texas with an average of 117 deaths per day over the past week has a higher number. It has about 50% more residents.
Over the past two months, Florida has averaged 133 reported COVID-19 deaths per day. That would make the disease the state’s biggest killer during that period - cancer and heart disease each average about 125 deaths per day, according to the health department.
The number of people being treated in Florida hospitals for the disease continued a seven-week downward trend, following peaks of more than 9,500 in late July. There were 2,922 patients being treated in the late morning Thursday, according to a hospital census posted online by the state, down from 3,075 the previous morning.
Also, Florida had 36,541 new claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 25% drop from the previous week, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Florida officials told the federal labor officials that the drop was due to fewer layoffs in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, trade and service industries.
Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show the seven-day death average is 97, not 103.
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