Members of the Marion County Commission expressed hope Tuesday morning that Gov. Ron DeSantis would heed their request and relax some of his reopening guidelines for Florida amid the COVID-19 pandemic – a move he rejected during a press conference later in the day.
In particular, the Commission was hoping to see restaurants allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity instead of the 25 percent DeSantis approved for interior dining rooms and tables at least six feet apart in outdoor settings. Commissioners also were hoping to see hair salons and barber shops, gyms and other personal services businesses be allowed to reopen under the 50-percent guidelines.
Commissioner Kathy Bryant, who last week held a short press conference to implore DeSantis to relax his guidelines, pointed out to her fellow commissioners that what they were asking for was for the governor to simply follow the recommendations of his task force. During last week’s press conference, she appeared with 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.
“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 during the press conference. “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.”
On Tuesday while speaking at a new Coronavirus testing site in Sarasota, DeSantis was asked about his strict guidelines for restaurants and the other personal-services establishments. He said he and his team “looked at the science” when deciding the guidelines for outdoor seating at restaurants. But he didn’t back down on the 25-percent indoor seating capacity rule.
“I’m not saying they couldn’t do more than 25 percent in a safe way,” he said. “I think they can. But we looked at kind of what folks were doing and we wanted to just be very measured about it.”
DeSantis said he understood that some restaurants simply can’t reopen and expect to survive doing 25 percent of the business they did before the COVID-19 crisis hit the Sunshine State. But he pointed out that many have been successful in offering takeout orders. And he said that even though his reopening plan is taking “baby steps,” he wants Floridians to feel safe enjoying meals at restaurants in their communities.
“All of the restaurants are going to be very cognizant about safety,” he said. “I know a lot of the patrons are going to be cognizant about safety as well. We’re being consciously judicious on this.”
The governor also said he won’t hesitate to take his family out to eateries in the Tallahassee area. He said he’ll feel “100 percent comfortable,” partly because his young children are in an “extremely” low-risk age group, as is the 41-year-old governor and his 39-year-old wife, Casey.
“All these small business folks, particularly the mom-and-pop restaurants, these are really important parts of the community,” he said.
DeSantis added that if the state continues to see a rapid decrease in COVID-19 cases, that will be a good sign for moving onto other reopening phases.
“Quite frankly, there are parts of this state that probably could have started at phase two,” he said. “I understand that. But I also think that we’ve just got to be very measured with how we’re doing it – instill some confidence – and then I think we can get back very quickly.”