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Florida Joins Indiana in Reopening Restaurants at Full Capacity

It’s a concerning decision for the state, where nearly 700,000 COVID-19 cases have been documented

A crowd dines outside at a Florida restaurant. The focus is on one man, sipping a yellow cocktail from an oversized glass. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Following Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s announcement that his state will allow restaurants and bars to reopen at full capacity on September 26, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a similar lifting of restrictions in his state, as it moves today, September 25, into phase three of reopening. The full reopening of restaurants in Florida, which were previously allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, is concerning, considering the COVID-19 pandemic is far from under control in the state. The order also allows local governments to lift the 50 percent capacity limits on bars, if they so choose.

According to data collected by the New York Times, more than 2,500 new coronavirus cases were documented in Florida on September 24, representing a five percent increase in cases over the past 14 days. The announcement of Florida’s extreme loosening of restrictions comes as the state marks almost 700,000 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and nearly 14,000 COVID-19-related deaths, according to the Times database.

The lifting of restrictions in Florida comes by way of an executive order issued by DeSantis. The order takes effect immediately, and strips city and county governments of the power to enforce mask-wearing mandates, shutdown restaurants, or issue fines to businesses that ignore other coronavirus-related mandates. The executive order will make it extremely difficult for city and county governments to crack down on restaurants and bars that are identified as COVID-19 hotspots. In a Friday press conference, the governor said that any local governments that do intend to enforce limited capacity measures will have to “identify what the costs of doing that are.”

That COVID-19 spreads aggressively when social distancing isn’t enforced has been well documented, and this is of particular concern at restaurants and bars where people are in close proximity to one another. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “adults who tested positive for Covid-19 were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming ill than those who tested negative.” Enforcing social distancing and mindful mask-wearing greatly diminishes these risks, while lifting any and all restrictions can be closely tied to spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Florida’s rollout of reopenings has been anything but smooth. Throughout the pandemic, bars and breweries in the state closed and reopened twice due to spikes in COVID-19 cases, according to FOX 13 Tampa Bay. Those reopenings (and reclosings) took place even as the state enforced capacity limits of 50 percent. Now that all limits have been lifted for restaurants, and restaurants and bars are free to welcome crowds indoors again, there’s no telling what magnitude of case surges will come over the next several weeks.