Pinellas says movie theaters can reopen, despite governor's statements

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis specifically said movie theaters were the only phase-one businesses that could not reopen in Florida. But Monday, Pinellas County gave them the green light.

The discrepancy apparently stems from the governor’s directive to move Florida to a “full phase one” of his three-phase plan to reopen Florida from the coronavirus shutdowns. That plan is based largely on guidance from the White House, which included a limited reopening of theaters as part of that first phase.

"I think the only thing we aren't doing in the president's guidelines is movie theaters," DeSantis said last week as he announced gyms could reopen. "When you're in an enclosed indoor environment, the virus is just more transmittable. Of course, drive-through theaters are 100-percent fine."

Executive Order 20-123, which went into effect at 12:01 this morning, provided the legal guidance for the reopening. It says:

- Stores, restaurants, gyms, libraries, and museums can operate at 50-percent capacity

- Professional sports teams may gather before limited crowds

- Theme parks may submit plans for reopening

- Counties can submit requests for vacation rentals to reopen

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However, Pinellas County officials say their interpretation of the order for “full phase one” includes more, based on the report from the governor’s task force on reopening.

The county released guidance Monday allowing movie theaters, concert halls, auditoriums, bowling alleys, arcades, playhouses, and casinos to reopen to half capacity, with the caveat that cleaning and disinfecting is required and masks must be worn by employees.

“We’re reading the order. The order says we’re in a full phase one. Nothing within the order restricted movie theaters. It didn’t restrict bowling alleys either,” County Administrator Barry A. Burton explained in a Facebook Live session Monday.  “That was what we heard the governor said in his press confernce, but it did not come out in his order. All we can do is interpret the order and apply the order.” 

“When you look at full phase one under the task force report, it specifically says that movie theaters are permitted to operate,” agreed Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “All we can go by is what the words say on the paper. And that is all Florida counties in full phase one, and it specifically says movie theaters are part of full phase one.”

The sheriff noted that if theaters chose to reopen, they had to operate at 50-percent capacity and maintain social distancing for all patrons.

“You can’t pack a theater just like you can’t pack a beach,” Gualtieri added.

Pinellas also clarified that tattoo shops and massage parlors can reopen as long as they operate by appointment only with 15 minutes between appointments.

Emergency planners in neighboring Hillsborough County also met Monday and discussed the executive order, but did not include theaters in the list of business approved to operate there.

RELATED: What is allowed to open under phase one of the governor's plan to reopen Florida?

Bars and nightclubs that derive more than 50-percent of their revenue from alcohol sales cannot open anywhere in the state; they were not included in phase one of the reopening plan at all.