TALLAHASSEE — Bars and movie theaters are allowed to open at half capacity starting Friday as most of Florida moves into the second of the state’s three-phase re-opening amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday.
With the exception Florida’s hardest hit areas in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, bars, movie theaters and bowling alleys will be allowed to open at 50 percent indoor capacity. Bars can have full outdoor seating, but must serve seated customers only, he said.
Tattoo shops, massage parlors and tanning salons are also allowed to re-open Friday.
All of those places must adhere to “appropriate social distancing and sanitation protocols,” DeSantis said, and the public should still avoid crowds of more than 50 people.
And people over the age of 65 and anyone with underlying health conditions are still being encouraged to avoid all crowds, which can serve as vectors for the virus.
“It’s really, really important to continue to avoid crowds and continue to limit the risk of exposure,” DeSantis said.
Tom DeGeorge, who owns the Ybor City live music venue Crowbar, said he was happy to get the green light to open, but that he would take a few days to consider how to do so safely.
“I’m not going to jump into anything,” he said. “I’m going to take a good few days to really look at the situation and make sure that we set the gold standard."
DeSantis spoke at Universal Orlando Resort, which opens to the public Friday, the second of a wave of theme park re-openings over the next two months.
Here’s the reopening schedule for the state’s theme parks:
- June 1: Legoland Florida
- June 5: Universal Orlando: Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay
- June 11: SeaWorld Orlando and the Aquatica and Discovery Cove water parks
- June 11: Busch Gardens Tampa and Adventure Island
- July 11: Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- July 15: Walt Disney World: Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Parimutuel facilities across the state will also be allowed to reopen if they have written plans to reopen, DeSantis said.
The governor’s reopening plans have closely followed White House guidelines.
In Tampa Bay, DeSantis’ executive order should have an impact, even though local governments have already allowed some of the same re-openings.
Pinellas County allowed its bowling alleys to operate at half capacity since May 18. For Dunedin Lanes, that means about 84 people can be there at a time, said its owner, Matt Stevenson.
DeSantis’ new order will allow Dunedin Lanes to open its bar and hopefully bring more awareness that bowling is reopening, Stevenson said.
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“We’re just looking forward to getting back to our new normal,” he said.
Guy Revelle, co-owner of Splitsville, said the Tampa bowling alley was allowed to open about two weeks ago with 25% capacity. The governor’s announcement does increase how many people are allowed in the business, which has a fire code limit of 800 people. However, following social distancing guidelines, Revelle said, Splitsville will not be able to accommodate half of its capacity.
“I can’t get 400 people in there and keep them 6 feet apart,” he said.
But the bowling alley will also be opening up its bar, following the governor’s announcement. About 60% to 75% of Splitsville’s revenue comes from food and beverages, Revelle said.
Operating a lively nightlife venue puts his business in a slightly different category than most bars, said Crowbar owner DeGeorge. He said his team would likely have to reevaluate the type of live music events they booked. Under the new guidelines, concert goers would have to keep at least six feet from the stage.
“I have always felt that a standing room concert area where everyone is looking on the stage can be done responsible,” he said. “I believe we can be just as safe as the restaurants are being. I’m not going to just open and go crazy and do all the things that I normally do. I think that people need to remember that this isn’t a flip of the switch scenario — this is a long process and needs to be treated that way.”
Greg Haddad, who runs the downtown St. Petersburg establishments Flute & Dram, Central Cigars and Ruby’s Elixir said the 50 percent capacity mandate would curb a lot of his business, especially at Ruby’s, a live music venue that has remained closed during the shutdown.
“I’m excited, and it’s better late than never,” Haddad said. “But I wish it would have happened earlier — it’s been hard to pay the bills without revenue.”
“At least now it’s like, get the foot back on the gas,” said Josh Cameron, who runs the downtown St. Petersburg spots Crafty Squirrel and Oyster Bar. “You pretty much spend all your savings to keep your business afloat.”
Oyster bar, which is primarily a restaurant, has been open and operating at 50 percent capacity while Crafty Squirrel has remained closed. On Friday, Cameron will reopen Crafty Squirrel and soon, another bar and brewery in downtown St. Pete. Though he lauded DeSantis’ decision, Cameron said questions remain.
“Everyone is trying to decipher the fine print,” he said. “Does everyone need to be in a seat? Like, if people start dancing, do we need to tell them to sit down? Is the responsibility ours or is it on the patrons?"
For many out-of-work bar employees, the re-opening means a return to a work and a regular paycheck.
Kathleen Mahany, who bartends at bars in downtown St. Pete and in Ybor City, said she has been working table service during the shutdown and is happy to go back to full-time bartending.
“Most guests have been understanding about the new rules,” she said. “We’re all excited to have a bit (of) freedom (from) the rules on Friday.”
Under Florida’s Phase 2, visitation at long-term care facilities is still prohibited. Elders living in long-term care facilities have accounted for 7 in 10 of all deaths resulting from the coronavirus in Florida last week, and 85% of all deaths have occurred among people over age 65.
Data released last week by the Florida Department of Health show that outbreaks continue to spread widely at homes throughout the state while deaths continue to mount at facilities that already were hardest hit. As of Monday, 1,236 people at long-term care facilities had died from COVID-19.
Despite these numbers, testing of residents and staff at these facilities remains voluntary and state regulators rely on voluntary reporting of positive infections from nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Tampa Bay Times staff writer Sharon Wynne contributed to this report.
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