By DOTTY NIST
Bars and similar alcoholic beverage vendors in Florida received state approval to reopen at 50 percent capacity effective Sept. 14 for on-premises alcohol consumption.
Halsey Beshears, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) secretary, announced the reopening on Twitter on Sept. 10.
“Starting Monday, all bars will be reopened at 50% occupancy,” he wrote.
Since June 26, bars and other vendors deriving more than half of their revenue from alcoholic beverage sales had been suspended from selling alcohol for on-premises consumption. The suspension had been by a DBPR emergency order.
According to that DBPR order, the reason for the suspension had been the “significant increase” of people in Florida testing positive for COVID-19 during the month of June, particularly young people, with cases involving these individuals suspected to have resulted from visits bars and similar businesses which had not complied with state COVID-19 requirements.
Even with the suspension of on-premises consumption, these businesses had been allowed to continue selling alcohol in sealed containers for customers to consume off premises.
Restaurants and other vendors licensed as public food service establishments that obtain half or less of their gross revenue from sale of alcoholic beverages had also been allowed to continue to serve these beverages for on-premises consumption at a limit of 50-percent seating capacity and with customers seated with proper social distancing.
The Sept. 10 emergency order rescinding the previous suspension allowed bars and similar alcoholic beverage vendors to resume sale of these beverages the following Monday for consumption on premises in accordance with the requirements of Phase 2 of Florida’s Safe Smart Step-by-Step Plan for Recovery.
Along with limiting bars to seating at 50 percent capacity indoors (full capacity allowed outdoors with social distancing), Phase 2 states that bar customers must be seated to receive service, among other COVID-19-related requirements.
Beshears’s Sept. 10 order did not mention Miami-Date, Broward and Palm Beach counties. These counties had been mandated to submit written requests in order to move into Phase 2 of the state recovery plan.
Palm Beach County had been approved to move into Phase 2 on Sept. 4— and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced on Sept. 11 that Miami-Dade and Broward counties would be moving to Phase 2 starting the following Monday.
However, also on Sept. 11 Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez stated that bars in Miami-Dade County would remain closed for the time being, and Broward County Mayor Dale Holness indicated likewise regarding Broward County bars.
Nor are Palm Beach County bars to open in the wake of Beshears’ new order. According to a Sept. 11 update on the Palm Beach County website, that county “was approved to move to Phase 2 in an incremental, step-by-step approach and bars in Palm Beach County are not permitted to open in our current Step 1 of Phase 2 and they must remain closed until an additional County order is issued.”
“The County Administrator and the Board of County Commissioners are closely monitoring indicators of COVID-19 prevalence and spread in Palm Beach County and will proceed with additional business openings in accordance with the recently approved Incremental Phase 2 Re-opening Plan for Palm Beach County,” the update concluded.
A Florida Department of Health daily (FDOH) update on Sept. 11 showed the number of COVID-19 positive patients currently hospitalized in Florida as down more than 70 percent since July, with current hospitalizations for a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 reported as 2,902. FDOH also reported the 29th straight day below 10 percent positivity of individuals tested for the virus.