MIAMI (AP) — One of Florida’s largest counties will soon reopen movie theaters, bowling alleys and other entertainment venues after seeing a decline in confirmed coronavirus cases, the governor said Thursday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Palm Beach County will take the step on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day weekend. DeSantis also said worst-hit Miami-Dade and other counties also were seeing declines in the number of COVID-19 patients.
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner met with DeSantis on Thursday to give him a letter requesting that businesses be allowed to reopen.
Under the new plan, movie theaters and bowling alleys will reopen allowing only 50% capacity, while gyms, retail stores and museums can return to full capacity if they comply with rules on social distancing and sanitizing. Social distancing requires 6 feet (1.8 meters) between each party. During a round table Thursday with brewery owners in St. Petersburg, DeSantis said he too wanted to see bars reopen soon.
“We understand the urgency,” he said. “We really want to get to yes on this.”
Many businesses were forced to close at the beginning of the pandemic in March, but DeSantis allowed bars to reopen in early June. Three weeks later, after seeing a surge in confirmed cases, he prohibited establishments that make more than 50% of their revenue from alcohol sales from serving on site. Restaurants that sell more food than alcohol were able to stay open and serve alcohol.
DeSantis said now the numbers were looking much better to allow for more social interaction.
“The fight is not going to be over on this,” he said. “That’s just not the way these things work. You don’t have a virus that all of a sudden disappears. It’s better to have the prevalence lower like it is today.”
Lorenzo Borghese, who had to close his South Beach brewery in March, said he’s hoping to reopen in the next three or four weeks. A new business owner, Borghese said March 2020 was supposed to be his first profitable month, just as the pandemic hit. His best customers are hotels and restaurants.
“I’m all for doing this, but if they’re going to do this … can they guarantee they aren’t going to shut things down again?” Borghese asked.
He said he wishes DeSantis would give separate consideration to reopening breweries instead of lumping them in with bars.
“Most breweries have a lot more space and many have outdoor space and can allow separation,” he said.
The governor highlighted the decline in the number of coronavirus hospitalizations. A hospital census posted online by the state said there were 3,429 COVID-19 patients on Thursday, a drop from the more than 9,500 patients who were hospitalized with the illness on July 23.
Florida’s health department announced on Thursday 149 new deaths, raising the total death toll to 11,800.
Health officials also reported 3,571 new cases of people testing positive for COVID-19. That compares to highs of between 10,000 and 15,000 new cases per day in early to mid-July.
Florida has reported more than 637,000 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.