Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday lifted all restrictions on restaurants and other business, overriding local authorities’ efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus as experts project a potential cold-weather surge of infections this fall.
The governor, a Trump ally who has long been skeptical of business closures, also forbade fines for individuals over social distancing violations and failures to follow mask mandates. He declared Florida “probably the most open big state in the country” and expressed confidence that the reopening will be permanent.
“We’re not closing anything going forward,” he vowed at a news conference.
DeSantis left some room for what he called “reasonable regulations” at the local level. Under DeSantis’s new executive order, local governments must justify efforts to limit indoor restaurant capacity and may not cut capacity below 50 percent.
The mayor of Florida’s most populous county, Miami-Dade, emphasized in a statement Friday that local officials can still make their own rules “as approved by the state.” Broward County Mayor Dale Holness also told local news that he hopes to maintain stricter limits given the virus’s hold in South Florida, according to the Associated Press.
As of Friday evening, the Sunshine State had recorded more than 695,000 known cases of the coronavirus and more than 14,000 deaths related to covid-19, the disease it causes, according to Washington Post tracking.
Elsewhere on Friday, Democratic leaders more supportive of strict coronavirus restrictions also eased their rules or sought to help struggling businesses.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced that movie theaters, bowling alleys and more could reopen starting Oct. 9, and raised size limits on indoor gatherings and events.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) made permanent a program that has helped thousands of restaurants pivot to outdoor dining on streets and sidewalks.