Florida Orders Bars Closed as Covid Cases Hit New Record

(Florida Health Department)

(CN) — Florida’s cases of Covid-19 surged exponentially Friday, setting a new daily record and prompting officials to close bars across the state.

The Florida Department of Health’s latest report shows 8,942 people tested positive for the coronavirus, skyrocketing past Wednesday’s record 5,511 new positives.

The upward trend over the last few weeks, seemingly fueled by a younger demographic, led Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears to suspend the on-site consumption of alcohol at bars.

The state has no plans to mandate masks or roll back any other aspects of its phase two opening, Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters on Friday.

“We’re going to trust people to make good decisions,” DeSantis said during a press conference held at Lee Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers.

The governor said the spike in coronavirus cases is mostly attributed to young people socializing with each other and not reopening the state too quickly. 

“People want to be sociable, they want to interact,” DeSantis said. “It’s less businesses than it is social interaction.”

The median age of those infected with the virus has gone from over 60 years old to 34, the governor said. Hospitalizations have not risen dramatically, he said, because younger people are less at risk to face serious complications from the disease.

He scoffed at the idea of ordering people statewide to wear masks in public.

“To police and fine people is probably something that would backfire,” DeSantis said. “Young people, if they are partying at someone’s house, they are probably not wearing masks.”

He added, “The idea that you are going to mandate and successfully prosecute people isn’t going to work.”

As cases began to spike last week, local governments around Florida quickly passed orders requiring face masks in public places and businesses. The rules prompted two lawsuits brought by prominent Republicans in the state.

DeSantis has been reluctant to reverse reopening plans, though hinted that the second phase of reopening may last longer than anticipated.

On June 5, the governor loosened restrictions on bars and nightclubs, allowing them to operate at 50% capacity. Restaurants were already allowed to open at half capacity during the first phase of reopening.

DeSantis said the move to suspend alcohol sales in bars on Friday came after so many establishments did not follow the 50% capacity guidelines. Earlier in the week, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation suspended the alcohol license of an Orlando-area bar after an outbreak infected 28 patrons and 13 employees.

“When people are following the guidelines, we’re good,” DeSantis said. “You had people that weren’t following it.”

Hours before the directive, Tom Rockhill voluntarily closed his arcade bar, Right Around the Corner, in St. Petersburg.

“Just with all the spikes, this thing seems to be ripping through the hospitality industry right now,” Rockhill explained. “We decided it’s not even worth it to open. Let’s just close the doors.”

Rockhill said even after opening, bar owners in the area were taking heat on social media as the socially isolated populace began heading back to downtown nightlife.

“We can’t do anything right now without people saying, ‘There’s too many people in there, I can’t believe your open,’ or if you take it on the safe side people will, for lack of a better word, call you a pussy,” he said. “It seems like anything we do we’re pissing somebody off.”

He continued, “The hard part being an owner is now I feel like it’s my job to make sure [social distancing] happens and it’s my fault if it doesn’t. I can’t run around with a tape measure and ask people how they know each other and if they are in the same group.”

But for now, Rockhill just worries about how long the suspension will last. He and his business partner weathered the last shutdown, but another one could be devastating.

“Financially, I’m obviously taking a huge hit,” Rockhill said. “I own the place so if I don’t sell beer, I don’t get paid.”

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