ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Talks are underway on how and when to safely reopen Florida’s numerous businesses and attractions that were forced to close during the state’s 30-day stay at home order.
The Governor’s Task Force to reopen Florida held another day of morning conference calls on Wednesday, gathering questions and ideas from several industry leaders on how to do so safely and responsibly and to prevent any further spread of COVID-19.
Wednesday’s conference calls focused on impacts the virus-related closures have had on schools, utilities, outdoor recreation, retail, theme parks, and sports.
The working group call related to the industries of agriculture, finance, government, healthcare, management and professional services had to be rescheduled to Thursday due to technical difficulties.
During the conference call discussing reopening businesses and attractions and sports, one concern raised was how to when and how to open up businesses, attractions, and state parks responsibly - without facing potential lawsuits for opening up too early.
All talked about the huge economic toll this shut down has had on industries across the board.
On Wednesday Universal Resorts’ CEO John Sprouls said they still don’t know when and how they will reopen their massive entertainment complex to visitors again.
"We are obviously thinking a lot about how and when to reopen," said Sprouls. "We have multiple teams working on a number of different scenarios."
Sprouls said so far Universal has no date set on when it will reopen its resorts, attractions, restaurants, and shops - saying there are still a lot of factors to consider.
“We hope it’s sooner rather than later obviously,” said Sprouls. “We know the paramount issue will be feeling safe in our park. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t attend.”
During the conference call, Sprouls said some of the things Universal is considering is using social distancing measures on rides and cue lines, limiting the number of guests in the park, and using virtual line technology like they currently used at Volcano Bay and certain other newer rides. He also talked about the possibility of staggering seating on rides.
Sprouls says Universal is also considering doing temperature checks, having workers wear masks, and ramping up cleaning and disinfecting measures on the rides and attractions throughout the park.
"We will screen every team member we have who comes in contact with guests every single day," said Sprouls.
Universal's CEO also talked about enhancing technology at the attractions and resorts to make some things touchless.
Universal and other businesses are looking to places like Walmart and Publix on how their employees and guests are handling social distancing measures.
Industry leaders also talked about their desire to have uniform guidelines from state and local leaders.
But all agree each day they stay closed is costing them big money and could cause some small businesses to close permanently.
“The conditions of the small business sector as a whole are very dire now,” said Chairman of the NFIB Leadership Council Walter Carpenter.
A small business owner himself in Orlando, Carpenter said businesses would like to see more streamlined guidelines between all Florida counties, and suggested businesses should be allowed to develop best practices of their own to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
"This virus does not discriminate in infection, but it does in recovery," said Carpenter.
Carpenter also mentioned how optimism among small business owners are currently at a 40 year low, with many businesses worried if they can rebound from a longer closure, since only a fraction qualified for the government Cares Act bailout.
"Many, many were left on the doorstep when first installment of PPP funds ran out," said Carpenter.
Carpenter said many businesses said they could only survive about 8 weeks under current orders. But most don't want to see it go that far. So now they wait and see what the Governor decides.
Those in the sports world also weighed in on the discussion.
Matthew Caldwell, President & CEO of the Florida Panthers Hockey Club and Len Brown, the Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer for the PGA Tour talked about how to incorporate social distancing and temperature checks with players.
Caldwell talked about how teams could play either with limited fans or in empty arenas and said the Panthers were looking at doing a cashless arena next year.
Brown said social distancing could easily be accomplished in the professional golf world and suggested players could be tested before they left home, again when they arrived, and then again later in the week of any tournaments. He also discussed evaluating making changes to the competition including the use of PPE and having players pull their clubs instead of the caddies to adhere to any future social distancing measures.
Both confirmed they would like to resume their separate sports seasons sometime this summer, with professional golf shooting for early June, and professional hockey hoping to start playing games in July. But both confirm nothing has been finalized.