Coronavirus: Restaurant dining rooms ordered closed in Florida

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Governor takes drastic steps to stop the spread of virus

  • This curry beef combo had to be ordered to-go late Friday afternoon. In addition to the ban on on-site dining, the governor shut down all gyms and banned non-essential medical procedures. (CARL MCKINNEY/Lake City Reporter)
    This curry beef combo had to be ordered to-go late Friday afternoon. In addition to the ban on on-site dining, the governor shut down all gyms and banned non-essential medical procedures. (CARL MCKINNEY/Lake City Reporter)
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Restaurant dining rooms are empty all over Florida, including Lake City, after the state drastically escalated its response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday. 

DeSantis on Friday afternoon issued an executive order banning all onsite dining at restaurants statewide effective immediately. The order came a day after the governor announced the closure of state offices to the public, and three days after a mandate capping restaurants at half capacity and shutting down all bars and nightclubs. 

Along the U.S. Highway 90 corridor employees at fast food chains such as Chick-fil-A already cordoned off their dining area days ago, a decision they said was passed down from corporate leadership.

The order, which is in effect for the duration of Florida’s state of emergency, will allow restaurants to sell food for carry-out and delivery but prevents on-site consumption. DeSantis also lifted a prohibition on restaurants selling package alcohol for carry-out or delivery, a move he said would help businesses retain some of the revenue lost due to the measure. 

In the order, DeSantis pointed to a need for “social distancing” to try to prevent the spread of the highly contagious and deadly virus known as COVID-19.

“I am committed to supporting retailers, restaurants and their employees as they pursue creative business practices that safely serve consumers during this temporary period of social distancing and … as governor, I am responsible for meeting the dangers presented to this state and its people by this emergency,” part of the order said.

The restaurant mandate was just one component of a far-reaching list of mandates put in place by the state on Friday. 

DeSantis also mandated that all healthcare providers in the state suspend all non-essential medical procedures to preserve resources such as face masks and protective gear. 

Furthermore, he ordered the closure of gyms and fitness centers.

The order prohibiting non-essential medical procedures states that “All hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, office surgery centers, dental, orthodontic and endodontic offices, and other health care practitioners’ offices in the state of Florida are prohibited from providing any medically unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency procedure or surgery which, if delayed, does not place a patients immediate health, safety or well-being at risk, or will, if delayed, not contribute to the worsening of a serious or life-threatening medical condition.”

Procedures that are non-essential include “some endoscopy, most cataract and lens surgeries, non-urgent spine and orthopedic procedures, and cosmetic procedures,” according to the order. 

Allowable procedures, according to the order, “include, but may not be limited to, removal of a cancerous tumors, transplants, limb-threatening vascular surgeries, trauma-related procedures, and dental care related to the relief of pain and management of infection.”

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state climbed to 520 as of Friday morning --- an increase of 130 cases from a day earlier. As of Friday morning, 10 Florida residents and one non-resident had died from the respiratory virus.

Earlier on Friday, DeSantis shut down beaches, theaters, gyms, bowling alleys and other venues that attract large numbers of people in Broward and Palm Beach counties. That decision came as Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties topped the state in the numbers of COVID-19 cases.

As of Friday morning, Broward had 124 cases, while Miami-Dade had 113 and Palm Beach had 34. The executive order said the new restrictions would bring Broward and Palm Beach in line with Miami-Dade, which has taken similar steps.

Also Friday, the Seminole Tribe of Florida announced it was shuttering its Seminole Hard Rock hotels and casinos in Tampa and Hollywood, as well as four other casinos, the tribe said in a news release.

“This decision was not taken lightly as Seminole Gaming employs nearly 14,000 Seminole Gaming team members in the state. The goal has been to protect their livelihood without jeopardizing public safety,” the announcement said. “We have now reached a point where we do not feel comfortable taking that risk.”

DeSantis spoke with tribal leaders on Thursday and said he expressed concern about “the health issues” associated with the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

Before Friday, the Seminoles had taken steps to create social distancing, such as shutting down poker rooms, unplugging half of the slot machines and limiting the number of players at “house-banked” table games, such as blackjack. The tribe had also employed additional cleaning measures to try to reduce the spread of the virus.

Friday and the Seminole Tribe closed its casinos, the latest virus-related closures affecting a state that is heavily dependent on tourism and consumer spending to pay its bills.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.