DeSantis says Florida is ready for phase two: Bars, theaters can reopen

Against the backdrop of a reopening theme park, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that most of Florida is ready to move to "phase two" of the three-phase plan to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting this Friday, bars, tattoo shops, and theaters are among the businesses cleared to reopen with limited capacity as long as they take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Florida is currently in phase one of the plan outlined by the governor's task force to reopen the state. DeSantis had previously said phase two would begin when there is no evidence of a rebound of COVID-19 cases, while still maintaining the health benchmarks outlined in the plan, potential hospital bed capacity, and COVID-19 positive testing rate.

As of Wednesday, Florida has reported a total of 58,764 known COVID-19 cases. Today's increase of 1,317 was the largest single-day increase of reported coronavirus cases in the last 30 days, and one of the largest since the pandemic began. The number of deaths, though, is on the decline.

The governor now says the state -- with the exception of heaviest-hit South Florida -- is ready to move to phase two, which allows a number of businesses to finally reopen.

"I think we have an opportunity to continue to move forward in a safe, smart, step-by-step approach, and I think it gets more people in Florida more opportunities,” he said.

Here's what's allowed as Florida enters phase two, based on the governor’s comments and his previously released outline:

- Bars and pubs that derive more than 50 percent of sales from alcohol should operate at 50 percent of capacity inside but 100 percent outside. They should keep tables 6 feet apart and restrict groups to 10 or fewer people. Patrons may only receive service if seated.

- Tattoo shops, massage parlors, tanning salons, and other personal services business may reopen within the guidance of the Department of Health.

- Restaurant bar-top seating is again permitted, with social distancing.

- Retail stores can increase capacity to 100 percent. Signage should promote social distancing and cleaning protocols should be in place.

- Gyms and fitness centers can increase capacity to 100 percent. Social distancing and sanitation protocols must be in place and patrons should be separated by 6 feet.

- Large venues, like movie theaters, concert halls, auditoriums, bowling alleys, arcades, playhouses, and casinos, can reopen at no more than 50-percent capacity and with strict social distancing protocols. Parties cannot exceed 10.

- Large spectator sporting events should limit venue occupancy to 50 percent and use strict social distancing. 

- Public beaches will be fully open.

- State parks will be open during the day but overnight accommodations will remain closed. Large activities and events are not permitted.

- Individuals can resume non-essential travel.

- All employers should continue to encourage teleworking while plans to implement employees back to work begin. However, all employers are advised to screen employees before they return to work for COVID-19 symptoms. If practical, take the temperature of each employee.

- Local government meetings can resume with no more than 50 people in attendance.

The governor's office said nightclubs were purposefully excluded from the phase two reopening because they typically have limited seating.


Meanwhile, visitors are again stepping foot inside the Sunshine State's theme parks as Universal Orlando reopens its gates, which have been closed since mid-March.

Wednesday marks the first of two days of passholder previews at Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure parks. On Friday, Universal Orlando will open to the public, making them the first of Florida's major amusement parks to reopen following the coronavirus pandemic.

The smaller Legoland in Winter Haven reopened earlier this week. SeaWorld Orlando will follow suit next week, welcoming back guests beginning June 11. Walt Disney World, meanwhile, plans to open up a month later in July.

RELATED: Busch Gardens' plan to reopen approved by county, includes mandatory face coverings, temperature checks

The experience will be vastly different from what guests are used to, however. With face masks and temperature checks required, park guests will still have to practice social distancing from others in what are usually spaces that are crowded with people.

The reopening of theme parks was initially included in phase two of the task force's plan, though DeSantis has not followed their guidance exactly -- keeping some businesses, like gyms, closed longer than suggested and allowing others, like vacation rentals and theme parks, to reopen sooner.

Phase three, the final part of the plan, would be a lifting of nearly all restrictions in Florida, with a continued focus on vulnerable populations. The governor did not specify when that might happen.