Gov. Ron DeSantis today ordered all bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days starting at 5 p.m. today across the state, and ordered restaurants to limit seating capacity to 50 percent of a restaurant’s floor space, with appropriate distances between patrons. He is also recommending that colleges and universities not resume instruction in person through the end of the semester. And he is urging limits on gatherings on the state’s beaches and supporting the closure of beaches in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach.
Taken together, it is the most sweeping set of restrictions and recommendations yet in Florida as the coronavirus approaches 200 infections in the state and six deaths, and passes the 5,700 mark in the nation, with close to 100 deaths.
For local businesses, the prospect of shutdowns is “terrifying,” in the words of Moonrise Brewing Company Owner Benjamin Davenport–not because he doesn’t support the safety measures: he does, in every way, and does not consider them an overreaction. But because it doesn’t take away the economic hardships that will also exact a very serious toll, even on a business like his that, as yet, does not have to close in accordance with the governor’s order.
At the Brown Dog, a craft beers bar and restaurant that operates under a restaurant license at St. Joe Plaza in Palm Coast, the governor’s closure order also doesn’t apply, but swirling news of the virus has taken a toll anyway. The 50 percent rule may constrain business even more. “I just have to figure out if it’s going to be worth staying open even if we’re allowed to,” Brown Dog owner Nick Fuller said today. “We’re going to try it for a little bit and see, and if nobody is coming out we’ll make that decision then, but until further notice we’re open.” He’s not worried about having to close necessarily.
His concern is for employees being out of work. Meanwhile, he’s been heartened by customers who have braved the announcements and continued to come in. “I had a bunch of customers come up to me saying we’re trying to support the local businesses,” Fuller said. “We’re very grateful for our regulars that have come and supported us.”
For Eric Cooley, the Flagler Beach city commissioner who runs a different kind of business–the 7-Eleven on A1A–it’s a different kind of worry. He doesn’t have to close. But that’s not making him any less unsettled. “I’m slam busy, and I’m not comfortable with it. This is the only time you’ll hear me say this,” Cooley said.
The reason: “The beach has been very, very busy, there’s a lot of people here, it’s spring break, the teens are all over the place,” Cooley said. “While it’s good for business, the downside is the people who are coming into the businesses are the same people who have no concern about the virus. For me, it’s a great concern, so I’m caught between a rock and a hard place.” He said it’s a choice between capitalizing on the volume of business or closing to be self-protective of himself and his staff, all of which falls in the at-risk subgroup for the virus. “Unfortunately there’s no good answer.”
What concerns him especially is the behavior of younger people who may be carriers but aren’t taking precautions. “You’d be appalled by the way people are acting,” he said. “It’s very, very scary.”
That was the governor’s concern when he spoke today. “That could be problematic for spreading the virus,” DeSantis said. “If they’re not meeting in those big groups then the chance of that being passed on is less. We’ve also seen issues related to spring break with some of the beaches.” He said he supported the closure of beaches in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale and was aware of “big crowds” on the west coast of Florida. But he stopped short of himself ordering closures.
“Simply for the statewide floor for beaches is applying the CDC guidance of no group on the beach more than 10, and you have to have distance apart if you’re going to be out there,” he said. “So that will apply statewide. Now, different localities are going to make decisions about what makes sense. But having talked to mayors, it’s certainly not uniform.”
As has been the case nationally and even locally, the mixed messaging has at times been contradictory, especially with health and emergency officials–including Flagler’s–saying that even though there may not be confirmed cases locally, communities must act as if the virus is here. Yet the governor is citing the absence of confirmed cases as a reason not to have the same rules apply everywhere. He’s leaving it to localities to impose stricter rules if they wish–or to not do so.
“This is the floor for Florida for the foreseeable future,” he said, regarding beaches, bars and restaurants. “I think you’re going to see Miami probably go further than that, and we support the efforts that the locals are doing. I think this is a virus that’s affecting the whole state but it affects different communities differently, the response may not always be the same on every little thing. We have a number of counties that have not had a single case, so I feel like this makes the most sense. It gives the flexibility for locals to go further if they want to but also recognizes that we do have some areas where we haven’t seen this yet.”
At Moonrise, the concerns have to do with the way the constraints have been trending toward shutting things down.
“We are a little nervous about the possibility of closing. I do feel like that will happen,” Davenport said today, even if Moonrise isn’t required to close at the moment.
Moonrise Brewing Company opened just over two years ago at European Village and quickly established itself as a popular destination, with its craft beers brewed on site and a constantly varied menu. It opened under a restaurant license, so it does not have to abide by the closure order, and it has already instituted the recommendations of limiting capacity by 50 percent and spreading out tables, along with additional measures such as no hand-held menues anymore, and rigorous sanitary cleanups of every high-touch surface.
“As of last week it’s been pretty normal,” Daveport said of business. “I strongly feel with all the announcements and the progression of the virus, over the last two days especially, I feel things are going to change pretty drastically during the week, unfortunately.” Still, Moonrise is keeping its regular business hours, it’s providing take-out, it’s got growlers to go, and Davenport himself said he’d be happy to provide curbside service (at European Village) if anyone requests it and would prefer not to go into the restaurant.
Just as state and local orders change at times more than once in a single day, businesses are trying to keep up with their own adaptations. The prospects ahead for all small businesses is unsettling. “We’re nervous, if we have to shut down we’re a small business, we don’t have a ton of funds to work with,” Davenport said. “Closing down for a week is not a huge deal, closing for two weeks is a big deal.” And to see businesses having to close for a month, he said, is “terrifying.”
Elsewhere, four students at the University of Florida have tested positive, one of whom had been traveling internationally, one or two of the others having likely been in a “hot spot” in New York, according to the governor. A 77-year-old man at an assisted living facility in Broward County has died, bringing the total number of Covid-19 case deaths in the state to six.
The number of tests administered in the state remains drastically low, which deceptively is keeping the number of cases low: there has been 940 negative test results so far, compared with 192 positive, and still just 872 tests pending.
Meanwhile, most essential businesses remain open. Some have altered hours, but all those listed below are open:
All Publix Stores are opening at 7 a.m. but closing nightly at 8 p.m. until further notice.
Target on State Road 100 is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Winn Dixie’s two Palm Coast locations are open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Walmart at 174 Cypress Point Pkwy in Palm Coast is open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. until further notice.
Walgreens at Belle Terre Parkway and State Road 100, open daily 7 a.m. to midnight.
Walgreens at 215 Palm Coast Parkway , open daily 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Walgreens at 1109 Palm Coast Pkwy SW, open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., shorter hours on weekends.
CVS at 5151 Belle Terre Parkway (near Palm Coast Parkway) is open 24 hours.
CVS at 1 S Old Kings Rd is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Racetrac’s three Palm Coast locations remain open 24 hours.
The governor’s statement today is below. He did not take questions.