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Bars across Florida allowed to reopen

Bars will be limited to 50% capacity starting Monday

ORLANDO, Fla. – After months of being closed to stop the spread of COVID-19, bars across Florida will be allowed to serve alcohol for on-site consumption once again come Monday.

Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears made the announcement Thursday evening on Twitter, hours after he appeared alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis for a roundtable discussion about the restaurant industry.

Come Monday, bars will be able to operate at 50% indoor capacity, serve patrons seated at the bar and serve guests who are seated outside in a socially distanced manner.

An executive order was issued to close bars in late June after multiple outbreaks were linked back to more crowded establishments, including one near the University of Central Florida.

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Before that, bars were initially closed in mid-March when the Sunshine State first started to report COVID-19 cases. At the time, the closure was only expected to last for 30 days.

They then were allowed to start accepting patrons once again in early June as Florida entered phase two, only to be shuttered weeks later when coronavirus cases started trending upward.

Beshears said Thursday that in the future, he’d like his department to take a more targeted approach to enforcing COVID-19 guidelines.

“I just, I can’t stress that enough, moving forward we’re gonna look at the bad actors, that’s it, so not everyone gets punished,” Beshears said.

During the roundtable Thursday afternoon, DeSantis wouldn’t say exactly when bars would be allowed to reopen, but hinted that an announcement would be coming from Beshears very soon.

The governor also flirted with the idea of increasing restaurant capacity from 50% to 100% at the request of struggling business owners. He said changes are coming, although he wouldn’t provide details as to when.

During the closure, bars, pubs and breweries have still been allowed to serve cocktails in to-go containers for guests, which normally wouldn’t be allowed.

DeSantis said to-go alcohol will be allowed for the duration of Florida’s state of emergency and then after that, it’ll be up to elected officials to enact more permanent legislation.

“So I think it should be made permanent I think it was, I think it’s been helpful. So we’ll have to talk to the legislature. As long as the state of emergency’s in effect, they’re going to be able to do it (serve to-go alcohol), but, you know, the state of emergency can’t last forever,” DeSantis said.

In a news release, Beshears said he knows many in the hospitality industry are finding it difficult to pay their bills.

“In meetings with hundreds of owners of bars and breweries across the state, I’ve heard their stories of struggle, and I’ve observed their serious commitment to making health and safety a continuing priority in their businesses,” Beshears said. “It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital that we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic.”

Aaron Dudek owns The Woods, The Lodge, and Burton’s in Thorton Park. He said bar owners like him are happy to be allowed to reopen Monday after six months of closures.

“They can open and they are excited and they can rid of all their inventory that’s been sitting there for six months, and it’s a learning experience,” Dudek said.

Dudek said he has had to add staff to enforce social distancing and mask mandates.

“If you don’t have a mask on with you in today’s world, you don’t care,” Dudek said.

Glenn Closson owns Ivanoe Park Brewing.

He said the establishment has been open because they serve food as well. Closson said that limiting capacity to 50 percent hinders a business’s ability to generate revenue.

“It would help, I know right now we try to keep one staff behind the bar because we are seeing fewer crowds because of the fact that we’ve had to turn people away once we hit that capacity,” said Closson.

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