Nothing ambiguous about it: Bars, restaurants in Florida ordered closed (but you can buy booze for takeout)

Customers carry take out orders from Groovy's Pizza and Bar in Miami on March 18, after the city closed restaurants to all but takeout orders. Now the governor has closed them statewide to dine-in customers. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest COVID-19-related emergency order unambiguously closes bars and restaurants across the state of Florida, although they’re allowed to sell alcohol to go as long as it’s part of a food order.

Fitness centers also will have to close their doors.

The governor had already ordered bars and nightclubs closed in pursuit of social distancing calculated to curb spread of the coronavirus linked to the sometimes-fatal respiratory disease.

But he’s allowed restaurants to continue to operate so long as they scaled their dining rooms down to half-occupancy.

Now, in-house service in both venues is banned during the 60-day public health emergency DeSantis declared on March 9.

“I am committed to supporting retailers, restaurants, and their employees as they pursue creative business practices that safely serve consumers during this temporary period of social distancing,” the order, issued Friday, says.

However: “As governor, I am responsible for meeting the dangers presented to this state and it’s people by this emergency.”

Later in the day, DeSantis announced that a COVID-19 death had occurred in a Broward County assisted living facility for seniors that had failed to screen construction workers, staff, and cooks before they entered the facility and mingled with residents, he said.

“That is exactly what you are not supposed to do,” DeSantis said in a news conference. Five additional residents have tested positive and more than 200 others are now exposed. Law enforcement and infection-control authorities have been embedded at the facility to ensure all protocols are followed.

At mid-day Friday, Florida health officials had reported 10 deaths, including two in Broward, and 520 COVID-19 cases. The Florida Phoenix keeps tabs on the disease’s progression on our The Phoenix Flyer page.

Another executive order issued later in the day bars elective and non-urgent medical procedures in “hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, office surgery centers, dental, orthodontic and endodontic offices, and other health care practitioners’ offices,” to save resources for patients with COVID-19.

The statewide order followed by just a few hours a separate order sharply restricting access to entertainment venues including bars, restaurants, beaches, gyms, movie theaters, and more in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Broward has had the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the state.

The statewide order makes no mention of beaches — DeSantis has been leaving them to local discretion even as he has fulminated against crowds including spring breakers who’ve flouted federal advisories to limit crowds to 10 people.

As in South Florida, the statewide order closes gyms and fitness centers unless they are within hotels with capacities of 10 persons or less, are in a residential building or single-occupant office building, or fire or police stations.

You’ll find a list of the governor’s executive orders here.

DeSantis had previously allowed establishments selling food to offer take-out and delivery orders. His new order notes that customers have been taking advantage of that service.

“Alcohol sales to go with food that is pick-up or delivered will be permitted and I.D. will be required for orders including alcohol,” the governor’s communications office said in a written statement. They must be sold in sealed containers. Nothing changes for liquor stores or other package businesses.

In other developments, DeSantis said that protective equipment and testing kits are arriving, though in insufficient numbers, and that drive-through testing facilities are being set up in Jacksonville, where motorists can drive through, and in The Villages, the sprawling senior living development where residents can drive through in their golf cars.

He said the state will establish more in other locales as soon as possible.

“The No. 1 thing that we need is just a lot more people to have been tested,” DeSantis said. “If we had that, I think we would be able to make some more informed choices.”

Note: This story has been updated to include remarks from the governor’s news conference.

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.