ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Nearly a dozen bars visited by Orange County’s strike teams over the weekend were found not in compliance with the county’s COVID-19 guidelines, according to Mayor Jerry Demings.
Demings said during a coronavirus news briefing Monday afternoon that 11 bars -- eight in downtown Orlando and three near UCF -- were visited Saturday by the county’s strike teams, which aim to educate businesses on COVID-19 protocols in hopes of keeping businesses safely open during the pandemic.
The strike teams visit businesses and look for things like social distancing measures, the enforcement of mask-wearing and increased sanitization. According to Demings, none of those guidelines were being followed at any of the bars visited Saturday.
In addition to the noncompliance issues, Demings said some patrons and bar owners mistreated members of the strike teams.
“Our strike teams found no masks, no social distancing no hand sanitizers, and no disinfectant at every one of the bars visited,” Demings said. “In addition, some of the members of our teams were insulted by the patrons. And I’m told that some of the bar owners were less than cooperative.”
Demings asked members of the community to remember that the strike teams are visiting businesses to prevent shutdowns like the county saw at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and that other large cities are seeing now as COVID-19 makes a resurgence across the U.S.
“I wish that bar owners didn’t view these visits as intrusive. We’re simply trying to keep our bars, open. Perhaps we can learn from the cautionary tales of other metro areas where bars have been closed,” Demings said.
The following bars were found not in compliance by the strike teams over the weekend, according to Orange County officials:
- Orange County bars
- Knight’s Pub
- Knight Library
- Infinity Nightclub
- Orlando bars
- The Basement Orlando
- The Office Orlando
- Saddle Up
- The Treehouse Orlando
- Celine Nightclub
- The Attic Orlando
Michael D’Esposito, the managing partner of Knight’s Pub and Saddle Up, two of the bars mentioned during the news conference, is asking local leaders to work with bar owners in the area moving forward so that they’re all on the same page.
“At this time there is so many mixed messages and contradictions to what is to be understood that, how is anyone suppose to move forward? If leaders want change then take action by calling a meeting for all of us to sit in a room and discuss. I’ll gladly gather all the owners of the venues on their ‘list’ and any others to join,” D’Esposito said. “There’s two sides to every story, the right thing to do for the county and city [is] to sit in a room with these venues (which happen to be some of the most popular in Orlando) and help work together towards a positive change. Not to threaten or continue to slander, but to come together in these times so [there] can be progression.”
D’Esposito said change happens when people come together and that he’s been pleading for a meeting since June.
Since the strike teams were organized earlier this year, they have visited 4,910 businesses with a first-time compliance rate of 87%.
The warning to bar owners and patrons comes as Florida’s daily number of new coronavirus cases continues to rise. On Sunday, Florida reported more than 10,000 new cases, the highest number of new daily cases the state has seen since July, around the time the first major wave of the virus peaked in Florida. Of those cases, 745 were reported in Orange County, though Dr. Raul Pino, with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said Monday that the spike was partially due to a lab in Brevard County dumping data on Saturday for multiple days of testing.
Pino warned that the community should expect to see numbers that high, though, if the community continues to relax when it comes to COVID-19 precautions.
According to Pino, Orange County saw 36% increase in COVID-19 cases last week compared to the week prior, the highest week-over-week increase the county has seen in 15 weeks.
While other businesses have been open for months, bars were only given the green light to reopen a few weeks ago in September after attempting to reopen earlier this year and being forced to shut down again as COVID-19 cases began to rise.
With rising numbers again being reflected in Florida’s coronavirus data and issues being reported at the county’s bars, reporters at Monday’s briefing asked Demings and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer whether it was time to consider placing more restrictions on bars again.
Demings said an executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis makes it difficult for local leaders to do that.
“Well, I just want to remind you that not too long ago, Gov. DeSantis, by executive order, removed the ability of local governments to invoke penalties if you will for violations for individuals. There remains a possibility that we could have penalties for businesses, we have not done that at this time. But the governor set the threshold, very high, in that if we, at the local level, institute, further restrictions, we have to be able to define the economic impact on businesses and a number of other things that really complicates the conversation significantly,” Demings said.
Both mayors said they are not considering issuing curfews at this time but will continue to monitor the data and re-evaluate. A mask mandate remains in effect for Orange County.
Tim Boldig, the Deputy Director planning environmental and developmental services reacted to the latest updated.
“It’s disappointing because we worked hard to keep these numbers low," he said.
“The public has been complaining and we have been receiving pictures and videos of all these bars and what is happening," Dr. Pino said.
During Monday’s news conference, Dyer said residents of Orlando know what they need to do and said wearing a mask is one of the most important and patriotic things citizens can do.
“You’re protecting those around you, and you’re protecting those that live in your city, in your state, in your country. So right now, as the numbers continue to climb a little bit and we have events where people are going to want to be together, there’s nothing more important that you can do to help with the economy and the safety of our people than wear a mask,” Dyer said.