On the same day Florida surpassed 14,000 coronavirus deaths, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was lifting state restrictions on all restaurants and bars.
Phase 2 of Florida's reopening plan required eateries to operate at no more than 50 percent capacity. DeSantis said that limitation will be eliminated under Phase 3, as bars, restaurants, and other businesses will have the option to fully reopen. His executive order also prohibits cities and counties from forcing restaurants to completely close due to the pandemic—unless the municipality can provide evidence that justifies the closure.
"If a local [establishment] restricts between 50 and 100 [percent] they've got to provide the justification and they've got to identify what the costs of doing that are," DeSantis said at a Friday news conference in St. Petersburg, as reported by NBC Miami. "There may be some local restrictions in some parts of southern Florida about doing some of the—like a banquet hall or something. Again, what the order's gonna say, they have a right to operate. You can insist on certain regulations and obviously I think you're probably going to see a different approach in southern Florida than you will in the Panhandle on some of that, and I think that that's fine."
Fitness centers, theme parks, retail businesses, and sports stadiums can also operate at full capacity during Phase 3.
DeSantis addressed concerns about a possible second wave of COVID-19, and how loosening restrictions could lead to higher rates of infection. The governor acknowledged the pandemic is still a concern, but insisted the state was ready for a potential surge in coronavirus cases.
"We're prepared if we see an increase," DeSantis said. "We're not closing anything moving forward. We have the tools in place."
DeSantis also announced he would suspend all fines and penalties for social distancing violations.
"Just as an act of executive grace, all outstanding fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals are suspended," DeSantis said. "I think we need to get away from trying to penalize people for not social distancing and work with people constructively."
You can read reactions to the executive order, which is effectively immediately, below.