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Can bars safely reopen without a vaccine? Bar owners, Central Florida leaders weigh in

Bars remain closed since June 26

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation wrapped up a week of meetings with Central Florida brewery owners and bar owners in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Pensacola, Tampa, and Ft. Myers, meant to help mold a new plan for reopening bars.

“DBPR Secretary Beshears remains committed to working with bar and brewery owners to find safe reopening options and is laser-focused on these discussions with the industry to efficiently and effectively identify the best options,” a spokesperson said. “These meetings are intended to focus on bar and brewery owners to provide valuable dialogue.”

Gov. 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. Bars were allowed to start serving drinks again, the state limited indoor customer occupancy to 50% and allowed only table service.

However, bars were forced to close yet again on June 26, when Florida’s coronavirus cases totaled slightly more than 114,000.

The Florida Department of Health reported 5,409 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in Florida to 502,739. The total number is a running total since the virus was first detected in Florida in March.

Over the weekend, the state’s positivity rate dropped below 10% for the first time since late June. On Wednesday, the positivity rate for the number of people who tested positive for the first time, compared to the overall tests, rose slightly to 10.88%.

In an interview with ABC News Tuesday, Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer suggested bars might not be able to reopen without a vaccine.

"I just don't know how, until probably we have a vaccine, I'm not sure how we can bring the bars back quite honestly," he said.

At a testing site Wednesday, the mayor appeared to clarify his comments.

“The nature of their business is probably the most difficult to open back up,” he said. “They are in a very difficult situation. Certainly having a vaccine would be in everybody’s best interest, including the bars.”

John SanFelippo, the owner of the Beacham and other establishments in downtown Orlando, told News 6 he is reopening The Social and looking at possibly using his parking lot as an outdoor space as well.

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

“Every industry we know of, including the theme parks, is open except for the bars.,” SanFelippo said. “People have to be adults and be responsible if there are masks, then wear masks.”

SanFelippo told News 6 his 200 employees remain furloughed during this shutdown and his first attempt at reopening cost his business quite a lot of money.

“For us, we had to go out and in order to adhere to the guidelines to reopen, we had to spend tens of thousands of dollars on furniture, tables, bar stools, Plexiglas, hand sanitizer masks, all the PPE stuff,” he said.

It’s not clear if any future meetings with bar owners and DBPR will take place in Central Florida. The state’s top business regulator has not given a timetable for when reopening could happen.


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