Restaurants across Florida, including in Palm Beach County, can operate at full capacity effective immediately, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Friday.
Speaking at The Birchwood, a boutique inn in St. Petersburg, the governor announced he’s moving Florida into Phase Three of the state’s reopening plan.
That means restaurants and hotels can operate at a minimum of 50% capacity, or go all the way to full capacity indoors and outdoors, and they cannot be restricted by local governments.
“The order that I’m signing today will guarantee restaurants operate, will not allow closures,” DeSantis said. “There will not be limitations from the state of Florida.”
The governor added that if a local government wants to restrict restaurants to operating between 50% and 100% capacity, they must provide justification to the state.
“This is a very difficult industry to succeed in,” DeSantis said.
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner said at a Friday afternoon news conference that the county is included in Phase Three, meaning businesses like bars can reopen right away.
“We did not choose to move into Phase Three,” Kerner said. “The decision was made by the governor to move all 67 counties into Phase Three.”
The governor said local governments in South Florida can still put restrictions on certain venues like banquet halls, or adjust the capacity limits at bars.
“You’re probably gonna see a different approach in southern Florida than you will in the Panhandle on some of that,” DeSantis said. “If you want to go beyond the 50 [percent], you can authorize it and do it. We’re not telling you you have to, but we’re not gonna stand in the way of that. So that will be a local decision, if they want to do more capacity in some of the bars and pubs.”
DeSantis added that as part of his Phase Three executive order, all outstanding fines and penalties against individuals who have violated city and county mask mandates have been suspended.
“I think we need to get away from trying to penalize people for social distancing and just work with people constructively,” DeSantis said.
On Thursday, DeSantis said he wants to prohibit local governments from closing restaurants and bars, which many municipalities did earlier this year to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We may need to provide some level of assurances for people against some of the local restrictions that we’re seeing,” DeSantis said during a health care event in Tallahassee.
DeSantis said he wants to eliminate any uncertainty that restaurants could be shut down if there’s another surge of COVID-19 cases, as people are now becoming more comfortable with dining out.
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 695,887 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 13,915 coronavirus-related deaths in the state.