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Gov. DeSantis wants to ease restaurant restrictions, may override local rules

The governor says he sees many restaurants doing what is required of them, and he wants them to be able to keep operating.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Restaurants in Florida just got an extra boost from Gov. Ron DeSantis in their push to keep reopening after the coronavirus pandemic shut their doors and left them at limited capacity for months.

During a roundtable Thursday, the governor said that the state is planning to pre-empt the closure of restaurants at a local level moving forward. DeSantis indicated he does not believe that the closure of restaurants has made a difference in limiting the spread of coronavirus, and he wants to ease restrictions.

Using Miami Dade and Broward counties as an example, DeSantis challenged the room to point out where the two counties, which took separate approaches to restaurants at the height of the pandemic, show drastically different COVID-19 outcomes. 

“I challenge you to show me a difference in those epidemic curves," he said before sharing his thoughts. “I don’t think the closure of restaurants has proven to be effective. I get how you could potentially have spread there, but I also have to look at that.”

The governor wants restaurants to know they can operate, saying he sees many of them taking the right precautions.

“We can’t have these businesses dying. They’re not going to be able to be closed by locals anymore and they will be able to operate at the capacity that they’re comfortable with," the governor said before definitively adding "so, that's going to happen."

DeSantis also suggested that current restrictions at places like universities, schools, and theme parks are "self-imposed" and that he would like to see those loosened as well. 

“I am in support of them going to greater capacity and I think that they should do it," DeSantis said.

Under the state's "Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery." restaurants are allowed to operate with 50-percent indoor seating and proper social distancing.  

As of September 14, bars in the state of Florida were allowed to join restaurants in welcoming 50 percent capacity, as long as the follow CDC guidelines. So what does this look like? Locations are able to operate 50 percent of their facility's indoor capacity, allow bar service to seated customers and permit outdoor seating and service with appropriate social distancing. 

But, while the DBPR suspended bars from operating earlier this year due to COVID-19 concerns and then allowed them to reopen this month, along with Gov. DeSantis, the governor said the restrictions were applied locally.

It was a theme that he went back to multiple times Thursday, saying one of the last hurdles that remains is not one at the state level -- but one of providing a level of assurances for people against local restrictions.

“We’ve worked great with locals, we understand different problems and we’ve given them a lot of latitude to do things that I personally wouldn’t have done, but I think that that’s the way to do it," DeSantis said.

“At the same time I think everyone in Florida has a right to work, everyone in Florida has a right to operate a business. Now, there can be reasonable regulations on that on a local level. But to say no at this point from a local perspective, you know I don’t think that, that’s viable”

10 Tampa Bay has reached out to local officials to see where they stand on the governors' statements. 

Mayor Jane Castor said her opinion remains the same as when bars opened and that no further comment will be given as DeSantis' claims are not yet finalized. St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is working to look further into the governors' remarks. 

On a county level, Hillsborough Commission Chair, Les Miller said "I don't understand how the numbers can start ticking upward and now the governor wants to open everything up. Tt's not making any sense here Mr. governor." 

While Pinellas County Commission Vice-Chair, Dave Eggers said he would accept DeSantis changes.

"We'll adjust and we'll make sure that we continue that messaging to our restaurateurs: be responsible."

RELATED: Florida bars allowed to reopen at half-capacity starting Monday

RELATED: DeSantis: Miami-Dade, Broward counties to move to Phase 2 of reopening Monday

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