Florida’s bars to stay closed until coronavirus numbers ‘flatten'

Orlando bars struggle to keep businesses afloat

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s bars will stay closed until there is a massive reversal in the number of new positive coronavirus cases, according to the state’s top business regulator.

Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears on Friday said no timeline has been set to let people again drink in bars and nightclubs as the state adds thousands of coronavirus cases a day.

“These numbers have to stop climbing, it has to flatten, and then there has to be a decrease in that positivity number,” Beshears told The News Service of Florida.

In a tweet sent at the close of the business day on Friday Beshears posted, “We established a 3 week deadline at DBPR to reevaluate the sale of alcohol in establishments with consumption on premises licenses, without ever promising to open anything back up. Due to the continuing increase in positivity, there will be no change from emergency order 2020-09.”

This tweet was posted by the head of the agency that oversees bar licenses in the state of Florida, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. (WKMG/Twitter)

“It’s a complete destruction of bars,” said Jeff Ekas, owner of Casey’s in downtown Orlando.

Ekas said his bar has been closed more than 100 days, this year, and keeping it afloat is getting harder.

“We are quickly coming to a point where our rent is getting backlogged, our employees aren’t going to have the support of the federal funding, and it’s hard,” he said.

The forced closures forced another bar owner to rethink his business model.

John SanFelippo, owner of the Beacham and other establishments in downtown Orlando, told News 6 he is reopening The Social.

He said he has filed the appropriate paperwork to reopen the location as a restaurant.

“I’m not surprised that they’re continuing to say that they’re going to keep the bars shut down,” said Jason Lambert, owner of Hammered Lamb in Orlando.

Lambert said he doesn’t think the closure of the bars impacted the number of coronavirus cases.

The Florida Department of Health on Friday reported 11,466 new cases and 128 additional deaths, the fourth consecutive day of more than 100 deaths, and the tenth day the state recorded more than 10,000 new cases.

Several bar owners have filed lawsuits against the state over a June 26 order that reimposed a prohibition on serving drinks for on-site consumption. The state issued the order because non-compliance with coronavirus safety guidelines was considered too widespread to enforce in the bar industry.

The main complaint by bar owners has been the order unfairly discriminates against them, as establishments that serve food in conjunction with alcohol are able to remain open.

“We’re not trying to single anybody out,” Beshears said. “A fact is when people congregate in large groups and close quarters, they drink too much. They tend to get inebriated and their inhibitions are lowered.

“We know for a fact when that happens, that virus spreads like wildfire,” Beshears continued. “Those other places that do have a kitchen, the theory is sit down, spread them out, give them some food, and then they can move on.”

Since the order was reimposed, department inspectors have conducted more than 8,000 on-site reviews and issued 160 non-compliance notices. Five businesses have had their alcoholic beverage licenses suspended.

“There are not a lot of really egregious ones out there,” Beshears said. “I mean, there are people that are just staying open because they want to stay open until they get caught. They’re really crowded places where we’re seeing the late-night pictures, you know that come on Twitter, they come on Instagram or they come on Facebook. Those are restaurants that turn into bars after 12 and one o’clock. We don’t hear about them until after the fact.”

Beshears, described by DeSantis on June 23 as the “Grim Reaper” for bars and restaurants that violated the state’s social distancing and capacity guidelines, said he doesn’t want to reverse the broader phased reopening of the economy being undertaken by the governor.

“Nobody wants to back up,” Beshears said. “We certainly don’t want businesses to suffer and fail, but we’ve got to find a way to live with this thing.”

The state order about bars doesn’t affect restaurants that derive less than half of their gross revenue from the sale of alcohol.

DeSantis, while in Apopka on Friday, said young adults continue to drive the increases in case numbers.

DeSantis initially stopped bars and nightclubs from serving alcohol for on-site consumption as part of an emergency order on March 20 that was aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

The order was lifted on June 5 in all but South Florida, which has been hit hardest by the pandemic. But while bars were allowed to start serving drinks again, the state limited indoor customer occupancy to 50 percent and allowed only table service.

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About the Authors:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.