Florida bars and nightclubs to close, students ordered home, DeSantis says

The closures will be enforced by Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but the governor’s office did not provide immediate details of that enforcement.
Flanagan’s bar manager Lauren Scymanski, 34, serves up a Guinness as patron Richard Slattery, 52, of Dunedin looks on Tuesday  in Dunedin.
Flanagan’s bar manager Lauren Scymanski, 34, serves up a Guinness as patron Richard Slattery, 52, of Dunedin looks on Tuesday in Dunedin. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published March 17, 2020|Updated March 17, 2020

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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced sweeping new restrictions across Florida to tamp down on the spread of coronavirus, ranging from a mandatory last call for bars and night clubs to ordering all university students to study from home.

Starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, all bars and nightclubs will be closed for the next 30 days, DeSantis said. That will be enforced by Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but the governor’s office did not provide details on whether businesses that don’t comply will face fines or other penalties.

Specifically, the governor’s executive order states that any business that makes over half its revenue from alcohol sales can no longer sell drinks for the next 30 days. However, the governor’s office clarified that bars that also sell food will be allowed to remain open and only sell food for that period.

Restaurants should only allow 50% capacity at a time, and should separate seated customers by a distance of at least six feet, DeSantis said. Restaurants should also screen their employees before allowing them to work, and he encouraged Floridians to use take-out and delivery services instead of dining in.

He’s asking all of Florida’s universities to finish out their spring semesters online, after they had already temporarily made the switch. Four University of Florida students have tested positive for the virus, DeSantis said, adding that at least one had traveled internationally.

This step is designed to encourage students to leave campus and go home, he said, after students on spring break were still congregating at their universities.

Finally, the state is recommending no groups larger than 10 people be allowed at beaches, and each group must be separated by a significant distance.

“This is the floor for Florida for the foreseeable future,” DeSantis said. He said some local areas, such as Miami, will go further in their restrictions, which he supports because different areas have seen varying concentrations of the virus.

DeSantis also announced an additional death of a 77-year-old man in Broward county, who had underlying health problems and was living at an assisted living facility. The Department of Health worked through the night to check on all the other members of the facility, who are being isolated and evaluated, he said.

Tuesday’s new restrictions were the result of fresh guidelines from the federal government, DeSantis said, after President Donald Trump announced Monday afternoon that people should not gather in groups larger than 10 people.

Tuesday is also Florida’s presidential primary election day, and state officials have maintained that voting should go on as planned, because people shouldn’t be congregated for long periods of time at their polling stations.

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The tally of coronavirus cases Florida is tracking rose to 192, the governor said, including 173 residents. It was at 160 last night.

But those figures are certainly an under-representation of the real prevalence of the disease, given the limited scope of initial testing. Six Floridians have died, including one out-of-state, according to the Department of Health.

In Tampa Bay, Hillsborough now has reported eight cases — an increase of two since Monday night, including one a non-Floridian being isolated there. Pinellas has reported four and Pasco two. Broward County is tied to more cases than any other place in Florida at 51, according to the latest state update. Miami-Dade is connected to 35 cases.

Across the world, coronavirus has infected more than 189,000 people and killed nearly 7,500. The virus causes a disease known as COVID-19, which can bring on symptoms including coughing, fever and shortness of breath. It also leads to severe respiratory infections for some, and doctors say people who are elderly or have chronic health conditions are most vulnerable to the illness.

Unlike previous news conferences, Tuesday morning’s announcement was a quick event. DeSantis did not take questions and immediately left the conference room at the Florida Capitol, instead ushering in Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz to provide further information on the major update.

But before departing, DeSantis indicated there will be more updates throughout the day.

Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report.

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