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Florida’s bars to reopen with 50 percent capacity on Monday

The state announced the sudden change in policy in a tweet sent out Thursday night.

TALLAHASSEE — The state will allow bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity starting Monday, Florida’s top business regulator announced via Twitter Thursday evening.

Halsey Beshears, the secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said that officials will rescind Executive Order 20-09, which forced some standalone bars and breweries to essentially shut down earlier this summer in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bars and breweries that do not have substantial food menus have been banned from selling alcohol on-site since June 26. Beshears did not mention in his announcement whether bars would have to undergo special screening or protocol in order to reopen.

An emergency order signed by Beshears said Florida would move to allow bars to serve alcohol again because “the State’s emergency management plan, as it relates to COVID-19 now, is negatively impacted” by the existing order — the order banning the sale of alcohol at bars.

Beshears did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But shortly after the announcement Thursday evening, Beshears tweeted that “the governor said get to yes (on reopening bars), and we did.”

The decision to lift restrictions on bars comes as university students return to campus for in-person learning, and as DeSantis encourages Floridians to travel within the state to boost the economy damaged by the pandemic.

As of Thursday, COVID-19 has killed 12,326 people in Florida and it is known to have infected 654,721 individuals in the state.

Related: A tribute to the Floridians taken by the coronavirus

Just like the June 26 pronouncement that bars would effectively be shuttered, Thursday’s announcement that bars could reopen came via social media with little warning.

Beshears had an opportunity to announce the change at an event with Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday afternoon in Fort Myers. At that discussion about Florida’s restaurant industry, DeSantis was asked whether his administration would re-open bars any time soon.

“I think you’re going to see Halsey come out with something very soon on the bars,” DeSantis said in response to a reporter’s question.

But instead of announcing anything at the event, Beshears tweeted his order some five hours later. About 20 minutes after Beshears' tweet, his department emailed the order out as a news release.

DeSantis noted at the restaurant event that, since the June order, many bars had begun serving food to avoid being shut down by the state.

“We actually had bars open the whole time,” DeSantis said.

While bars were closed, Beshears' department, which reports to DeSantis, made examples out of several establishments that apparently failed to abide by social distancing rules. For example, last month, Tampa’s Pegasus Lounge had its alcoholic beverage license suspended by the department after the bar received several warnings about illegal gatherings, the department said then. (The bar’s owner, Julie Bible denied at the time that her business was out of compliance with state rules.)

In response to the news about bars opening their doors once again, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he supports Pinellas' bars reopening.

“Let’s be responsible so they can remain open,” tweeted Kriseman, a Democrat.

Bars in Miami-Dade remain closed under a county order Mayor Carlos Gimenez implemented on March 17. It was later approved by the County Commission, and Gimenez has declined to use his emergency powers to lift it while allowing other entertainment spots to reopen, including a brief resumption of operations at strip clubs over the summer before they closed again July 3.

“I don’t foresee us opening bars and nightclubs here for the foreseeable future — until we get a vaccine,” Gimenez told reporters Wednesday. “I just think that’s a highly dangerous activity. Especially when you have the music and all that, and you’re trying to talk over it. Bars and nightclubs will be very difficult.”

On Thursday, Jennifer Moon, the deputy mayor overseeing emergency orders, said the county wouldn’t be adding bars to Monday’s planned lifting of bans on rental scooters, outdoor amusement parks and tour boats.

“No bars,” she said.

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