Florida cracking down on bars, restaurants that violate COVID-19 social distancing guidelines

Liquor license suspended at UCF-area bar

ORLANDO, Fla. – While there’s no plans to shut down businesses as coronavirus cases continue to increase daily by the thousands, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday the state will be focusing its efforts on cracking down on bars and restaurants that refuse to abide by safety protocols designed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

DeSantis was in Orlando Tuesday to discuss the recent uptick of COVID-19 cases in the state, calling the new cases an “explosion” and acknowledging that the new cases are primarily being reported in younger demographics.

Already, Knight’s Pub near the University of Central Florida had its alcohol license suspended by the Florida Department of Businesses and Professional Regulation after 13 employees and 28 patrons there tested positive for COVID-19.

News 6 contacted the Florida Department of Health locations in the nine Central Florida counties.

Four of them, Orange, Seminole, Brevard and Volusia, recorded local outbreaks that stemmed from drinking establishments.

“This is very easy to understand. We’re in a step by step process. As we’ve moved forward here, the guidelines are in place for a reason, you’re not doing it just to do it. The reason that they’re doing it is because you want to have environments that are not going to be huge risk for transmission and if you don’t follow the guidelines and you pack huge numbers of people indoors that are very close, you’re creating an environment that you’re going to see more spread,” DeSantis said.

DBPR secretary Halsey Beshears said that officers from his agency will be out from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. doing checks on restaurants and bars to make sure that guidelines are being followed. He said some businesses that are maybe slightly over the 50% capacity will receive warnings but the focus will be on those that are clearly in violation.

“We are going to issue warnings to those that are trying to do the best they can but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Like I said, those that are flagrant, we will be suspending their license,” Beshears said.

In Florida, the median age of patients has trended younger and younger in recent weeks as college-aged residents resume social activities.

The good thing about that downward trend in age, according to DeSantis, is that younger demographics are less likely to experience severe symptoms as a result of COVID-19 that would require hospitalizations.

While there has been an increase in testing among younger Floridians, testing alone can’t be blamed for the continually swelling numbers since the positivity rate is going up as well.

“What we’re seeing is part of that is some of the contact tracing and some of the discrete outbreaks you’ve seen around the state. But really most of it is community transmission, particularly amongst the 20s and 30-year-old group. And I think part of that is just natural... and so you want to be doing things, you want to be more, out and about, I think the folks who are a little older, and would be more vulnerable have been a little bit more, more careful,” DeSantis said.

At the same news conference in Orlando, leaders stressed the importance of remembering to wear a mask, practice good hygiene and social distance as much as possible.

Even though Florida is in phase two of reopening, the pandemic isn’t over.

“So we want to make sure people are continuing to follow the basic instructions, whether it’s mass gatherings, social distancing, washing your hands, you know, that stuff will help reduce the spread,” DeSantis said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Florida Department of Health reported that Orange County had seen a total of 5,502 COVID-19 cases since March 1, with an increase of 375 reported cases since Monday, as well as seven new hospitalizations.

The governor commended the efforts of disease mitigation in the county, saying that Orange County had one of the lowest hospitalizations in the state since the pandemic began.

“If you look at their nursing home outbreaks, very few cases in nursing homes here in Orange County, that’s made a huge, huge difference,” DeSantis said. “I think that they’ve done a good job and then also here, they do a good job contact tracing so that’s when you have somebody, you’re identifying an outbreak. They’ve done a number of different outbreaks that they’ve been able to identify here.”

DeSantis said that he believed the spike being seen in new COVID-19 cases in Orange County was likely due to more contact between residents.

“If I test 10 people off the street, you know the positivity is gonna be one thing, but if I test 10 people who I’ve contact traced that have had close sustained contact with someone that just tested positive, well guess what? They’re going to be a little bit more likely to have cases in that age, in that cohort,” DeSantis said.

The statewide cumulative sits at 103,503 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 3,238 total deaths and 13,325 hospitalizations since the virus was first detected in the state on March 1.

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