Gov. DeSantis clamps down on beaches, entertainment venues in two South Florida counties

Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an emergency order closing beashes in Broward and Palm Beach counties to prevent spread of COVID-19, but a lawsuit seeks to compel him to act statewide. Shown is a Spring Beach crowd at Clearwater Beach on March 18, 2020. Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

You can’t go to the movies, gym, or beach in Broward or Palm Beach counties anymore — or really any place where people are likely to gather in defiance of COVID-19-related social distancing strictures — under a new executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

That and other orders took effect Friday to help contain the fast-spreading coronavirus that is especially dangerous to seniors in congregate living and people with compromised immune systems.

Meanwhile, the governor’s executive order to shut down most public gathering places through at least March 31 cites the need to minimize the community spread of COVID-19, the sometimes-fatal respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Health authorities now believe coronavirus-positive people experiencingg no symptoms may be spreading the virus unawares.

Local officials sought to shut down gathering places “to harmonize” with Miami-Dade County, which had already take similar steps, the order says.

A separate order allows local governments statewide to meet by telephone or video conference to minimize contact between public officials. The usual requirements for public notice and participation under Florida’s Sunshine Law still apply.

The governor acted the same day that state health officials announced the 10th COVID-19 death in Florida, this one in Broward County. At mid-day Friday, Florida had 520 cases.

Although DeSantis has refused to close beaches statewide, saying he trust local officials to gauge local conditions in that regard, he has issued guidelines consistent with federal advice that people cluster in groups of no more than 10.

The governor had already ordered bars throughout the state to close, and restaurants to limit the number of diners present at any time to half of their capacity.

The new order sweeps these businesses in anyway, applying to “restaurants, bars, taverns, pubs, night clubs, banquet halls, cocktail lounges, cabarets, breweries, cafeterias and any other alcohol and/or food service business establishment with seating for more than 10.”

It does not apply to most “grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and convenience stores” unless they provide seating for more than 10 people. Also exempted are such businesses “ancillary to essential services, including the airports, port facilities, secure facilities, and hospitals.” Businesses may still offer takeout services.

However, “all movie theatres, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, gymnasiums, fitness studios, and beaches shall close” unless they are ancillary to hotels or residential buildings or inside fire or police stations.

“The provisions of this order shall serve as minimum standards. Municipalities may impose more stringent standards within their jurisdictions,” the order says.


Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.