Last Updated: 5:02 p.m.
Gov. Ron DeSantis today ordered all restaurants across Florida closed for service or alcohol sales within the premises, allowing only take-out service. He also ordered all gyms and fitness centers closed in the latest in a series of sweeping measures gradually closing down much of the state’s economic, political, social and cultural activities as Florida’s coronavirus cases reach 520 with still minimal testing, and a colossal wave of new cases expected ahead.
Ten Floridians have died of Covid-19 so far. Flagler County has one confirmed case within its borders, but local officials are urging residents to act as if many more cases are present in the community, and to apply the same precautions ordered or recommended around the state.
The governor has not gone as far as the governors of California, New York and other states where residents have been ordered to “shelter in place,” orders now affecting 20 percent of the nation’s population, with more ahead. Nor has the governor closed Florida beaches, leaving that decision to localities: at least a dozen local governments have closed beaches.
But in a virtual town hall today, conducted by phone with call-ins from district residents, U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz said the best thing to do was “not going out frankly unless completely and absolutely necessary.” Waltz’s district includes all of Flagler County. He spoke with Flagler Department of Health Director Bob Snyder.
He said DeSantis was considering taking the same approach. “That is something they are absolutely considering,” Waltz said. “California has gone that direction. New York has gone in that direction. Obviously that comes with tremendous economic consequences.” He said DeSantis would “move in that direction” if gains aren’t seen in the state.
Waltz even recommended against families holding family gatherings. Answering a question from a constituent asking about a potential gathering, Waltz said that “much as we all want to get together, I think the best thing to do” is to hold a virtual gathering, if at all possible. “If you could at all delay it, I think that would be best,” he said.
“I completely agree,” Snyder said.
The City of Palm Coast is closing all city facilities to the public beginning Monday (March 23) until further notice. That includes City Hall, the utility department and all parks and recreation facilities with the exception of trails and open-space parks.
The city was following the lead of a state order that stopped face-to-face interactions between state agency staff members and the public, in the latest effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. The Department of Management Services, the state’s administrative arm, directed state employees to close to the public all facilities operated by executive agencies until April 19, according to a memo obtained by The News Service of Florida.
The closures could be extended, state officials said. “Floridians seeking assistance from agencies housed within DMS-managed facilities should contact the agency by phone or email for services,” the memo said. The agencies affected include the Department of Education, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Transportation, the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Law Enforcement.
DeSantis today also issued an executive order suspending a requirement that local government boards hold in-person meetings. The order will allow local boards to hold meetings by conference call or video conferencing, though they will be required to continue to comply with the state’s open-government laws. That means allowing the public to watch or listen in, and to participate through comment segments.
The order said it is “necessary and appropriate to take action to ensure that COVID-19 remains controlled, and that residents and visitors in Florida remain safe and secure.” DeSantis made the move a day after the state House and Senate held in-person meetings to pass a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Legislative leaders said they did not have the legal authority to allow members to cast votes remotely. DeSantis’ order only applies to local governments.
The state Department of Education earlier this week suspended all local school board meetings until July, allowing only emergency meetings, and requiring those, too, to comply with the state’s open government laws.
Regarding the order applying to restaurants, alcohol sales will still be permitted for take-out, with proper ID. The executive order lifts the restriction that normally prohibits selling package sales of alcohol for delivery.
“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 and … as governor, I am responsible for meeting the dangers presented to this state and its people by this emergency,” part of DeSantis’s order said.
The announcement will affect a huge part of Florida’s economy and workforce. It will last as long as Florida is in a state of emergency, which DeSantis declared March 9. The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation will have enforcement power.
Carol Dover, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, issued a statement that said DeSantis is taking “swift action out of precaution for the safety of Florida residents and visitors.”
“Allowing restaurants to stay open for delivery and take-out, while also lifting the ban for alcohol delivery, is critical to supporting Florida’s dining establishments and their employees,” Dover said. “We applaud Governor DeSantis for allowing Florida’s hospitality industry to continue to meet the needs of communities across Florida during this difficult time.”
Palm Coast will continue operating virtually through palmcoastconnect.com or by calling Customer Service at 386-986-2360.