By John Haughey
The Center Square
May 15, 2020
(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that Florida gyms can reopen and restaurants’ indoor seating can expand to 50 percent capacity beginning Monday.
The governor teased COVID-19 relaxations Thursday, when he promised “a good announcement,” signaling he could authorize most of the state to move into phase two of his reopening plan.
The state is not moving into phase two, however, DeSantis said during a news conference at Ascension St. Vincent’s Hospital in Jacksonville, calling his May 4 reopening order “initial phase one.”
“Today, we are going to move into a full phase one,” he said, noting reopening gyms and expanding restaurants’ indoor dining capacities are “things we could have done but didn’t do initially in our safe, smart, step-by-step approach.”
Under “full phase one,” restaurants can expand to half capacity, ideally with spacing or partitions used to enforce a “low-risk environment;” retailers, museums and libraries can allow 50 percent capacities if local governments agree; and gyms and fitness centers can reopen at half capacity.
“Don’t we want people to have exercise? Don’t we want them to stay in shape?” DeSantis asked. “It would make them more resistant” to the COVID-19 disease.
The governor said hygiene in enclosed areas where exercising people sweat always has been a concern and remains so.
“Sanitize machines and surfaces after use. That should be done anyway,” he said. “Clean the dip bars when you’re done doing dips, c’mon.”
“Full phase one” also will permit gatherings of up to 50 people in spaces that can accommodate social distancing protocols, but won’t allow movie theaters and bars to reopen.
“I’m not saying that we are not going to” reopen movie theaters, but “I need more information before I pull the trigger on that,” DeSantis said, adding “bars were not included in phase one. I didn’t see the need to jump over that.”
The order also allows counties to submit plans to him for allowing vacation rentals to Florida residents, he said.
“If you are going to rent out to people from New York City, I am probably not going to approve that,” DeSantis said. “It is going to be done on a case-by-case basis, but they got to submit a plan.”
The governor reiterated his invitation to professional sports leagues to resume stunted seasons in Florida and called on those teams that cannot play in local venues when seasons resume to make the Sunshine State their temporary home fields.
DeSantis said he’s also invited amusement parks to submit reopening plans to local governments and then to the state that identify “the date certain” they can protect guests and workers.
DeSantis lifted his April 1 stay-at-home order, allowing 64 of 67 counties – excluding hard-hit Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties – to advance into limited reopening May 4, leaving bars, movie theaters, gyms and personal-service providers, such as barbers and salon stylists, closed.
Under DeSantis’ “initial phase one,” large venues remained shuttered, gatherings of more than 10 were prohibited, hospitals were permitted to resume elective procedures and restaurants were allowed to reopen but with inside dining limited to 25 percent capacity, the same restriction that applied for retailers’ interiors.
Last week, DeSantis advanced Palm Beach County into phase one and allowed barbers, hair stylists and nail salon operators to reopen.
On Thursday, he authorized Miami-Dade and Broward counties to move into phase one, beginning Monday. In that order, he allowed restaurants to open at 50 percent capacity.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a path back,” DeSantis said. “This continues the journey.”