Florida is witnessing a major spike in confirmed covid-19 cases roughly seven weeks after Gov. Rick DeSantis announced plans to reopen the state following consultation with the White House. In a single day this week, 8,942 new cases were confirmed, state health officials said on Friday.
Florida’s reopening plans were announced during an April 29 press conference in which DeSantis said he’d gotten the go-ahead from Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. “I sent what Florida was doing to Dr. Birx. I spoke with her again at the White House. I spoke with the president’s team. They agree that Florida is ready to go to phase one,” he said.
Phase one of the DeSantis reopening plan asked Floridians to gather in groups no larger than 10 and to avoid non-essential travel, but it allowed bars and nightclubs that derive less than 50 percent of their sales from alcohol to reopen. Additionally, gyms and fitness centers were allowed to remain open at 50 percent capacity. Public parks and beaches were also allowed to remain open at various times with the request that guests remain at least 6-feet apart.
“Everyone in the media was saying Florida would be like New York or Italy and that has not happened,” DeSantis said in April during a press conference with President Trump, pushing back against questions from reporters who highlighted criticism of his coronavirus response.
Florida has been under phase two of the DeSantis reopening plan for roughly three weeks now. This phase increased capacity at restaurants, gyms, and other businesses to 75 percent of maximum occupancy and opened up vacation rentals. Sporting events were allowed to increase occupancy from 25 to 50 percent.
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On Friday, Florida essentially reverted back to phase one of its reopening plan—at least, in terms of alcohol sales. Halsey Beshears, secretary of the state’s Department of Business & Professional Regulation, initially said on Twitter alcohol consumption was being suspended statewide, but the actual order is a bit more nuanced. Restaurants and bars whose revenue isn’t derived from a majority of alcohol sales can continue to seat and serve customers. Bars may continue selling alcohol in to-go containers, as well.
On Tuesday, DeSantis threatened to pull the liquor license of any business failing to follow the guidelines, saying, according to the Tampa Bay Times: “If you go in and it’s just like mayhem, like Dance Party USA and it’s packed to the rafters, that’s just cut and dry. That’s not just an innocent mistake.”
According to the Washington Post, the average number of covid-19 cases in Florida is up 77 percent from a week ago and 526 percent from Memorial Day. For nearly three weeks now, Florida has continuously hit a new average high.