The Marion County Commission disagrees with portions of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to reopen Florida amid the COVID-19 crisis and on Thursday they made those feelings known.
Chairman Kathy Bryant took to the microphone during a short press conference that was broadcast live on the county’s Facebook page to let residents know that she and her colleagues want the governor to relax the rules for restaurants, gyms and hair and nail salons to begin reopening. She was joined by Tim Thomas, owner of Brooklyn’s Backyard and a partner in Big Hammock Brewery; Ben Marciano, owner of Zone Health and Fitness; and Sherry Kendrick, owner of Limelight Hair & Nail Studio.
On Wednesday, DeSantis announced that restaurants could reopen at 25-percent capacity – his task force had recommended 50-percent capacity – in dining rooms and utilize outdoor seating as long as tables were at least six feet apart and social distancing practices were maintained. Gyms and fitness centers, along with hair and nail salons, still haven’t been given the greenlight to reopen.
“We have managed this COVID-19 event with success,” Bryant said, noting that Marion County currently has 175 cases of the virus, which increased by 10 from Wednesday to Thursday. “It was through our strict compliance to all executive orders and CDC guidelines that Marion County was able to get a handle on this virus and prevent the surges we were projected to see.”
Bryant said far more people in Marion County are suffering from the loss of revenue and jobs than they are from the Coronavirus. She also pointed out that the county is home to:
- More than 612 restaurants with almost 10,000 employees;
- 258 hair salons employing almost 1,100 people; and
- 61 gyms and fitness centers providing about 450 jobs.
Bryant said local restauranteurs simply won’t survive on a 25-percent seating capacity and urged DeSantis to follow his task force’s recommendation of allowing eateries to open at 50-percent capacity with a minimum of six feet separating parties of no more than 10 people. She also suggested the governor approve a similar plan for gyms and businesses that offer personal services like hair and nail salons – as long as they follow social distancing rules and strict disinfecting practices. She added that salons would see customers by appointment only, staff members would wear masks and all frequently touched items in shared spaces, such as product, magazines and service menus, would be removed.
“We are asking Gov. DeSantis to trust us to implement cautious reopening phases that make sense to our current state so our citizens can get back to work and we can put an end to their financial suffering and economic hardships,” she said. “Our priority is the health and well-being of every individual who lives in our amazing county. With (DeSantis’) blessing to take the lead on our county, we can continue to save lives while we also continue to save local businesses.”
She added that just as counties coordinated with the governor’s office on the initial shelter-at-home orders, they should be able to do the same thing on the recovery phases.
Bryant then asked everyone watching the press conference to think about the various business owners and their employees who are continuing to struggle financially.
“That is why we are imploring Gov. DeSantis to please implement the Phase One approach that was suggested by the Reopen Florida Task Force,” she said.