Covid-19: Eateries, gyms may get green light Friday

  • This is what a lunch rush looks like under the current quarantine rules, which restrict restaurants to 25% capacity. Ole Times Country Buffet, where the photo was taken last week, may start seeing those empty seats fill up soon, as the state is expected to relax the rules on eateries. (CARL MCKINNEY/Lake City Reporter)
    This is what a lunch rush looks like under the current quarantine rules, which restrict restaurants to 25% capacity. Ole Times Country Buffet, where the photo was taken last week, may start seeing those empty seats fill up soon, as the state is expected to relax the rules on eateries. (CARL MCKINNEY/Lake City Reporter)
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The daily rhythm of life in Lake City may soon inch a little closer toward something resembling normalcy, as Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to further relax the state’s quarantine restrictions in an announcement today. 

Eateries throughout town were fairly busy last week, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at all the empty seats, the result of a 25% cap on restaurant capacity. That limitation is expected to be toned down to allow more patrons inside restaurants. 

The state is also expected to allow gyms to reopen. 

DeSantis gave a stay-tuned comment Thursday after adding Miami-Dade and Broward to the rest of the counties in the state that have started taking initial steps to recover from economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

He signaled that allowing people to work out in gyms will be one of the changes.

“This is a virus that, if you’re in good shape, you’re probably going to be OK. So, why would we want to dissuade people from going to be in shape?” DeSantis said during a news conference in Doral.

DeSantis has been prompting people throughout the pandemic to go outside for a walk, a run, a bike ride and to even play golf.

“It’s like 90-plus percent of the folks under 65 that have had fatalities have had serious conditions, and many of that has been tied to obesity,” DeSantis said.

The first phase of DeSantis’ economic recovery plan started May 4 in all but Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, which have the largest numbers of coronavirus cases in the state. The first phase included allowing restaurants and retail outlets that had closed because of the virus to reopen with 25 percent indoor occupancy.

DeSantis later added Palm Beach County to the phase-one list of counties and allowed barber shops and salons to operate with a list of restrictions for customers and workers.

Any additions to DeSantis’ first phase would begin Monday, when Miami-Dade and Broward will be allowed to join the other counties.

“I think the data and the facts are very clear that Southeast Florida, even though they had to face the most significant epidemic in the state of Florida, they flattened the curve,” DeSantis said, drawing distant cheers during a news conference in the middle of Northwest 53rd Street in downtown Doral. “Their hospitals were never overwhelmed. In fact, they had a lot of space throughout most of this period. And they are ready to move to phase one.”

DeSantis said he doesn’t expect the reopening efforts to be hampered by future localized outbreaks of the virus.

“I’m not going to be sitting here rolling back the entire state if there’s an outbreak in, say, Hialeah or something,” DeSantis said. “These are going to be local things, and they’re going to have to deal with that. But the state of Florida, we have so many places where the caseload is so low, and, really, outside of prisons and nursing homes we’re seeing very few cases.”

The Florida Department of Health on Thursday reported that the state had increases of 808 cases and 48 deaths from Wednesday counts, with 38 of the deaths tied to long-term care facilities.

The numbers brought Florida to 43,210 total cases and 1,875 deaths.

DeSantis’ first phase of the recovery effort loosely follows recommendations from the White House and a DeSantis-created task force on reopening the state. The first phase hasn’t included opening bars, movie theaters, breweries, playhouses, bowling alleys, gyms, tattoo shops and massage parlors.

Miami-Dade and Broward presented reopening guidelines to DeSantis this week and came with assistance from the Florida Department of Health, Jackson Health System, the medical schools at Florida International University and the University of Miami, and the Florida League of Cities. The guidelines include physical distancing, specified cleaning, personal-protective equipment use and increased testing for the virus.

Part of the Miami-Dade plan is to bring restaurant indoor capacity to 50 percent. DeSantis said his announcement Friday should closely follow the proposals from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

“We will fully institute contact tracing to avoid the development of any new COVID hotspots and will shut down any businesses that don’t comply with the new rules and our new normal,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said, referring to COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

The guidelines for the two counties match up in most places. Broward County Mayor Dale Holness said beaches in both counties will remain closed, with the intention of reopening them together at a later date.

“We agreed that it’s best that we do it together as a region,” Holness said. “If we open one section of the beach and the others are not there, we’ll have the crowds and be back to where we were, not where we want to be.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.