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Fauci says Florida’s decision to fully reopen bars and restaurants ‘very concerning’

He tells GMA, “When you’re dealing with community spread, and you have the kind of congregate setting where people get together, particularly without masks, you’re really asking for trouble.”

FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida’s decision to fully reopen bars and restaurants is “very concerning,” according to the top infectious disease expert in the country.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that the decision may lead to another outbreak, according to statements he made Monday on ABC’s Good Morning America.

“That is very concerning to me,” Fauci told the morning show. “When you’re dealing with community spread, and you have the kind of congregate setting where people get together, particularly without masks, you’re really asking for trouble.”

Related: DeSantis lifts statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants as Florida moves to Phase 3

In fact, now is the time to double down a bit, Fauci said. And by that, he says he didn’t mean to shut everything down. Instead, he’s asking that people exercise common sense.

“When I say that, people get concerned that we’re talking about shutting down,” he said. “We’re not talking about shutting anything down. We’re talking about common sense type of public health measures that we’ve been talking about all along.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consistently says that the best defense against the new coronavirus is washing your hands, social distancing and wearing face coverings.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed all remaining restrictions on bars and restaurants because the coronavirus pandemic has eased.

DeSantis' order also bars local governments from enforcing mask mandates or social distancing violations with fines, and from ordering businesses to close or operate at less than half-capacity, unless local leaders can justify the closure for economic or health reasons.

DeSantis acknowledged that South Florida could take more time to open at a Phase 3. Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties — the hardest hit with COVID-19 infections — have been slower to reopen than other parts of the state, keeping certain businesses closed and tighter restrictions intact.

Still, South Florida’s bars were packed with people over the weekend. Hardly anyone wore masks or kept a cautious distance from one another. It looked like a scene from more than seven months ago, before the shutdowns and before wearing masks became the norm.

It’s the exact environment that Fauci warned against on “Good Morning America.” He encouraged reopening the economy but doing so in a prudent way.

Broward County’s strip clubs were allowed to open Monday. Miami-Dade’s clubs can open Wednesday.

Florida’s coronavirus cases continued on the downswing Monday, with the state reporting some of its lowest numbers yet: 738 new cases and another five deaths.

The last time the number of new coronavirus cases was this low was in early June, when the state tallied 617 on June 2.

Monday also marked a near-record low for reported deaths. The state logged its lowest tally of four back on May 31.

State officials on Monday reported the daily testing positivity rate for Florida was below 5% for the fifth straight day.

The data show the daily positivity at 4.23 percent, up from 4.08 percent the previous day. This figure reflects only new infections based on COVID-19 testing for the day; it does not count people who previously tested positive for the disease.

The rate has been below 5 percent for 15 out of the past 17 days, dipping to 3.85 percent on Sept. 13, the lowest in three months. Public health experts say the virus is under control at this level.

Despite the low number of cases, some experts are worried the reopening may tip the balance in the wrong direction and cause a surge in cases in Florida, one of the summer hotspots for the highly contagious disease.

Dr. Terry Adirim, Dean at FAU’s School of Medicine, told Sun Sentinel news partner WPEC, Ch. 12 she expects to see COVID-19 cases rise in a few weeks.

“If we are going to see the surge we’re likely to see, it will hit in a few months, and it will hit the same time we see flu,” Adirim said. “So this could be a very catastrophic surge for our healthcare system and for our citizens.”

- Brooke Baitinger, Sun Sentinel

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