Despite thousands of new coronavirus cases per day, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday issued an executive order lifting all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, making Florida the largest state to reopen its economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Effective immediately, all state-level restrictions on businesses will be lifted so bars and restaurants, previously capped at 50% capacity, can operate at full capacity.
The executive order also prohibits local governments from closing businesses unless they can justify it for economic or health reasons, or from collecting outstanding fines from violated coronavirus restrictions, like local mask mandates.
“We’re not closing anything going forward,” said the Republican governor while announcing the executive order.
With hundreds of thousands of Floridians out of work, DeSantis pushed to keep businesses open (with restrictions) over the summer, despite national record-breaking coronavirus spikes, conceding to a closure of bars and nightclubs in June.
Some Florida Democrats have criticized the reopening measures as too aggressive given the steady drumbeat of new cases.
According to data compiled by The New York Times, Florida ranked 24th for most weekly cases per capita in the last seven days.
“No one is advocating for a full-scale lockdown in Florida,” Florida state Sen. Audrey Gibson (D) said Thursday. “But we have been and continue to ask for common sense prevention measures such as face masks, which are essential to preventing further spread.”
Florida is one of the minority of states—all of which are run by Republican governors—without a mask mandate.
“You can’t say no after six months and just have people twisting in the wind,” DeSantis said Friday.
After months of keeping the virus at bay, Florida became a troubling national hotspot during July and August. At the peak, the state reported over 10,000 new cases per day and nearly 300 deaths. With a large population of elderly retirees, who are at higher risk from the virus, the spikes in the state were particularly concerning. Since the end of August, new cases began to stabilize at a daily average of around 3,000 infections. Its average in the seven days through Thursday is 2,655 coronavirus cases a day and 101 deaths.
659,879. The total number of coronavirus cases reported in Florida since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times tracker. The state has seen 13,914 deaths.