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TALLAHASSEE — All restaurants must move to take-out or delivery service and all gyms will be closed across Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday, marking a dramatic escalation in the state’s effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Under a new executive order, the governor said licensed restaurants and food establishments must “suspend on-premises food consumption for customers.” Owners may keep kitchens open for takeout or delivery. The same applies for alcohol, and the order lifts some restrictions on restaurants to allow for the sale of drinks with to-go meals.
Earlier this week, DeSantis had ordered bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days, specifically businesses that make more than half of their revenue from alcohol sales. Places that also sell food were allowed to continue offering dining on-site, albeit at half-capacity.
The order from the governor was sent out to reporters at 2:12 p.m. and says it was to “take immediate effect.” Surely some restaurants had customers at that time. It remains unclear when the provisions will end. The order says it will expire whenever DeSantis rolls back a state of emergency he issued as the state began to grapple with the pandemic.
Coronavirus causes the disease COVID-19, which can cause severe respiratory infections. Doctors say it spreads through droplets that fly when a person sneezes or cough. It’s primarily transmitted person-to-person, though people can also pick up the virus by touching dirty surfaces.
Gyms and fitness centers are also to be closed under the new order.
The governor’s office said the Department of Business and Professional Regulation will be responsible for enforcing the rules. A spokeswoman for DeSantis wrote in an email that the measures are seen as “necessary to protect the public health, safety and welfare.”
As of Friday morning, the state Department of Health was reporting more than 500 coronavirus cases involving residents and visitors to the state. Ten Floridians have died.
The governor was late to suspend in-person dining services compared to other places across America.
At least 34 states suspended in-person dining or closed restaurants entirely before Friday, a Tampa Bay Times analysis of public records and news reports shows. Five others announced restrictions Friday.
At least two dozen states, including New York, Texas and California, had already called for closures of gyms, fitness studios and similar businesses.
Others still have taken the additional steps of closing shopping malls, bowling alleys and movie theaters.
Florida leaders have closed classrooms at schools and universities but have been generally reluctant to implement other broad shutdowns. DeSantis has said he worries about “mitigation fatigue.” Asked a couple of days ago why he had not yet ordered officials to close daycare programs, the governor said, “I don’t want to shut every aspect of life down."
Earlier Friday, he called for closing “all movie theatres, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, gymnasiums, fitness studios and beaches” in Broward and Palm Beach counties, an expansion of local rules that officials in Miami-Dade had put in place a day before. The governor has said Southeast Florida is the epicenter of Florida’s coronavirus problem, even though he has repeatedly highlighted a lack of testing that means doctors don’t have a complete sense of how many people are infected in the United States. In the state’s latest report, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach accounted for 271 of Florida’s cases of COVID-19.
The county with the fourth-most reports was Hillsborough, with 30.
DeSantis is set to provide an update on coronavirus at a 4:30 p.m. news conference Friday.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Times/Herald staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.
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