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Packed Florida bar forced to close for defying COVID-19 rules

People were seen not wearing masks or keeping their distance -- two things that experts say can help limit the spread of coronavirus.
Credit: WSVN-TV

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A popular bar in South Florida will remain closed for the foreseeable future after it was shut down by county code officers over the weekend.

Many people at The Wharf Fort Lauderdale were recently seen not wearing masks or keeping their distance in violation of Broward County's coronavirus safety guidelines. Given coronavirus concerns, and fears of a superspreader event, the bar was told to end operations for 24 hours, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

But management tweeted it will remain closed in the meantime.

"Thanks to all our fans for your support!" the tweet reads. "Unfortunately, due to the statewide spike in cases and local regulations, we will be temporarily shutting down. We'll reopen when we're able to provide the proper experience for you at our beautiful outdoor venue. Stay Safe & Stay tuned!"

The bar needs "clear guidance and understanding" to operate safely, part-owner Emilio "Emi" Guerra told the Sun Sentinel. It isn't, he said, an average bar given that it's outdoors -- not simply a place to eat and drink.

The newspaper reported few people were wearing masks under a covered bar area on Friday and Saturday. During three separate visits Saturday, the bar was found violating pandemic protocols.

"We were cited three different times in one day, at 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.," Guerra told the Sun Sentinel. 

He said code officers told him each bar needed a plexiglass divider, and they weren't pleased with people being allowed to walk around without masks.

County rules stipulate reopened businesses must follow its emergency orders, including sanitization and face coverings.

"Our goal is not to shut down businesses," Broward Mayor Steve Geller told the Sun Sentinel. "It’s to get compliance. If we have to shut down businesses that are intentionally violating our laws, maybe that will send a message. 

"They have to obey our orders for the safety of the public," he said.

South Florida was hit especially hard during the summertime peak of the coronavirus pandemic, with experts considering the state an "epicenter." More than 100,000 residents in Broward County have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, according to the Florida Department of Health.

There have been 1,629 deaths reported countywide.

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