Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced on Friday that he would lift statewide restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in a bid to completely reopen the state’s economy.
DeSantis cited reduced coronavirus hospitalizations as well as continued strain on the economy in making his decision. The governor said businesses including restaurants, bars, and nightclubs will be able to open at full capacity if they choose, however social-distancing protocols are still recommended.
While the state’s coronavirus survival rate stands at about 94 percent, the vast majority of deaths have occurred among residents over the age of 70. DeSantis recommended that residents age 65 and older should continue to practice social distancing, although they should not refrain entirely from public interaction.
“If you go back in March, we were told 15 days to slow the spread,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “Now people are saying, ‘hey even if there is a vaccine, it’s still going to take another year before you can operate appropriately,’ and I don’t think that’s viable, I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
According to the new regulations, all state-level restrictions on business activity will be removed. Local governments are forbidden from closing businesses and from reducing restaurant capacity below 50 percent, and are prevented from issuing fines to residents over violations of coronavirus-mitigation protocols.
Florida has recorded over 695,000 coronavirus cases since the onset of the pandemic, with 13,915 deaths among residents. The number of reported cases peaked over the summer during an outbreak seen across states in the Sun Belt, with a seven-day average of 12,000 new cases in mid-July. However, the current seven-day average now stands at about 2,600 new cases, according to the New York Times.
DeSantis’s announcement came after he held a Thursday roundtable with medical experts from Harvard and Stanford Universities who presented the case for opening businesses as much as possible while maintaining social distancing.
“At this point, we know that the benefits of a lockdown are small….All they do is push cases off into the future; it doesn’t actually prevent the disease from happening. And the costs are absolutely catastrophic, enormous,” said Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford.
Florida Democrats derided the roundtable as a essentially a propaganda session.
“The governor’s roundtable today was little more than a collection of like-minded individuals echoing the governor’s push for herd immunity policies. There would be no need for lockdowns had he endorsed mandatory masks and widespread, more robust testing,” State Senator Lori Berman said in a statement.