Florida’s bar scene will remain on hold until there is a massive reversal in the growth of positive coronavirus cases, according to the state’s top business regulator.
Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears on Friday said no timeline has been set to let people again drink in bars and nightclubs as the state adds thousands of coronavirus cases a day.
“These numbers have to stop climbing, it has to flatten, and then there has to be a decrease in that positivity number,” Beshears told The News Service of Florida.
The Florida Department of Health on Friday reported 11,466 new cases and 128 additional deaths, the fourth consecutive day of more than 100 deaths.
Several bar owners have filed lawsuits against the state over a June 26 order that reimposed a prohibition on serving drinks for on-site consumption. The state issued the order because non-compliance with coronavirus safety guidelines was considered too widespread to enforce in the bar industry.
The main complaint by bar owners has been the order unfairly discriminates against them, as establishments that serve food in conjunction with alcohol are able to remain open.
“We're not trying to single anybody out,” Beshears said. “A fact is when people congregate in large groups and close quarters, they drink too much. They tend to get inebriated and their inhibitions are lowered.
“We know for a fact when that happens, that virus spreads like wildfire,” Beshears continued. “Those other places that do have a kitchen, the theory is sit down, spread them out, give them some food, and then they can move on.”
Since the order was reimposed, department inspectors have conducted more than 8,000 on-site reviews and issued 160 non-compliance notices. Five businesses have had their alcoholic beverage licenses suspended.
“There are not a lot of really egregious ones out there,” Beshears said. “I mean, there are people that are just staying open because they want to stay open until they get caught. They're really crowded places where we're seeing the late-night pictures, you know that come on Twitter, they come on Instagram or they come on Facebook. Those are restaurants that turn into bars after 12 and one o'clock. We don't hear about them until after the fact.”
Beshears, described by DeSantis on June 23 as the “Grim Reaper” for bars and restaurants that violated the state’s social distancing and capacity guidelines, said he doesn’t want to reverse the broader phased reopening of the economy being undertaken by the governor.
“Nobody wants to back up,” Beshears said. “We certainly don't want businesses to suffer and fail, but we’ve got to find a way to live with this thing.”
The state order about bars doesn’t affect restaurants that derive less than half of their gross revenue from the sale of alcohol.
DeSantis, while in Apopka on Friday, said young adults continue to drive the increases in case numbers.
DeSantis initially stopped bars and nightclubs from serving alcohol for on-site consumption as part of an emergency order on March 20 that was aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
The order was lifted on June 5 in all but South Florida, which has been hit hardest by the pandemic. But while bars were allowed to start serving drinks again, the state limited indoor customer occupancy to 50 percent and allowed only table service.
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