Florida Continues Reopening Restaurants, Miami to Open Wednesday

Florida is the nation’s eighth most densely populated state, but one of the earliest to lift COVID-19 restaurant restrictions. New Jersey and Delaware remain in lockdown, as well as densely populated cities in New York and California, yet since May 4, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has allowed restaurants in all counties outside of southeast Florida to reopen. Initially capped at 25% capacity, he doubled that limit to 50% on May 15.

As of May 20, all counties in Florida are allowed to reopen according to the Governor’s Phase 1 reopening. “Phase 2 will take effect once Gov. DeSantis determines it is suitable to continue re-opening and after fully considering medical data in consultation with state health officials.” There are currently 48,150 COVID-19 positive residents in Florida and a total 2,190 deaths to date from the disease.

Municipal officials in the densely populated cities of Broward county (Fort Lauderdale) and Dade county (Miami) have elected to open slower than the Governor’s timetable. The City of Miami, City of Miami Beach, and City of Hialeah chose to delay their reopening as follows.

  • The reopening of certain restaurants began on May 18.
  • Most general business reopened Wednesday May 20.
  • Restaurants will open with limited sit-down dining capacity this coming Wednesday, May 27.
  • Beaches, bars, gyms, hotels and public pools remain closed. A curfew remains city-wide, starting at midnight.

Officials chose to reopen slower in order to give their business communities more time to prepare. Miami restaurants are subject to significant new regulations. Outdoor dining areas have several dozen new rules issued by the county, in addition to over 100 new rules that apply to all eating establishments. Given the financial stress already weighing down on restaurants, skeptics doubt that owners will ever be able to comply with all of the new costs. Miami-Dade officials mandate the following practices, for example:

  • Restaurants: “Must introduce plexiglass barriers at tills and counters as an additional level of protection for staff.”
  • Employee Procedures: “Use of a full-body disinfectant booth (example, CleanTech J-1) to sanitize all employees prior to entry is recommended.”
  • Customer Experience: “Customers must wear masks at all times unless seated at a table.”
  • Temperature Screening: “Employees must take their temperature at home before coming to work.”
  • Health Screening Questions: “The manager (or designee) must ask every employee health screening questions before each shift.”
  • Host Stand: “Hand sanitizer must be available at the host stand.”
  • Front Door: “Doors must be disinfected and wiped down doors every 30 minutes.”
  • The Bar: “Bar use for seating is presently prohibited.”
  • Self-Service: “No self-service of any kind including drink fountains, buffets or salad bars shall be permitted.”
  • Table Setting: “All menus must be disposable and single-use.”
  • Exiting: “Guests must wear masks or face covering that covers the mouth and the nose as they leave their tables. The restaurant must wipe down door handles with each exit as guests exit.”
  • Seating: “Tables and chairs must be sanitized after each party’s use or, if not used, every 60 minutes.”

These difficult rules will be difficult not only for owners but also for guests, especially in highly-visited tourist centers like Miami Beach. Guests are required to wear mask during both ingress and egress. Enforcing social distancing will quickly become a stressful responsibility for which many employees never signed up

Sales at restaurants dropped 51% during the first four months of the year due to the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many restaurateurs are on the verge of bankruptcy, “Open Florida 100%,” says one resident. “Restaurants can’t survive at 50% or 75%. Too many people sitting home collecting unemployment when they could be working. Not healthy for the economy.”

The final county in the state to reopen to visitors will be the Florida Keys, reopening on June 1. The Florida Keys have been closed to visitors since March 22 to minimize the spread of COVID-19 especially in its tourism center, Key West.

Photo by Hector Falcon on Unsplash

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