He also vowed not to reinstate restrictions in the future.
DeSantis issued an “emergency order” allowing restaurants and bars to immediately serve customers at full capacity with minimal social distancing requirements, which medical experts believe is particularly risky for the spread of the coronavirus.
“There will not be limitations from the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at a press conference.
Local governments will still have the option to restrict operations to a minimum of 50% capacity — but they will have to make a case to do so, he added.
The action at least temporarily ends a shutdown order for bars, nightclubs and strip clubs throughout Miami-Dade County, a COVID hotspot, the Miami Herald reported.
DeSantis is also banning any local fines for the refusal to wear a face mask or social distance, regardless of local rules.
“I think we need to get away from trying to penalize people for social distancing, and just work with people constructively,” DeSantis said.
He also argued that businesses need “predictability” and declared that the reopenings wouldn’t be reversed.
“We’re not closing anything going forward,” said DeSantis. Yet he also declared, without offering any details, that the state is “prepared if we see an increase.”
The mayor of Miami Beach immediately blasted the decision, calling it purely political and dangerous.
“The governor has always tried to be as much like President Trump as possible … [and] just ignore mainstream science,” said Mayor Dan Gelber. “This is really not the way to handle either a health care or economic crisis. It’s … going to kill people.”
Bars and clubs had been shut down in Miami-Dade County. Indoor dining was capped at 50% capacity.
Just as DeSantis was touting lifting restrictions, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez tweeted that the region’s positive COVID tests were beginning to inch upward again. “We can’t let our guard down now,” he warned.
Florida has lost more than 14,000 people to COVID, the fifth-highest death toll of all U.S. states. Florida’s death toll per 100,000 people is third in the nation.
It also has a high percentage of older residents who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. DeSantis appeared to diminish concerns about that group succumbing to COVID by referring to his state earlier this year as “God’s waiting room” for retirees.
DeSantis was one of the last governors in the nation to issue a stay-at-home order and restrictions on businesses because of the pandemic, saying he was waiting for guidelines from the White House — which never came. He also largely gave spring-breakers free rein to pack the state’s beaches, bars and restaurants.
Florida’s COVID hospitalizations and death toll have dropped significantly since earlier this summer, but the state continues to lose close to 700 residents weekly to the illness. Those numbers could worsen with reopened schools and DeSantis’ elimination of restrictions.
The governor’s full press conference can be seen below: