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Florida bans drinking at bars again as COVID-19 cases spike

Dave Osborn
Naples Daily News

Florida has ordered bars to stop serving alcohol effective immediately.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Friday announced it was suspending on-premise consumption of alcohol at bars statewide.

The rule applies only to bars, so restaurants that serve alcohol can remain open.

Friday's order suspends the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises "for all vendors licensed for such sale who derive more than 50% of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages," the state agency said in a news release.

"Notwithstanding this suspension of sales for on-premises consumption, these vendors may continue to sell alcoholic beverages in sealed containers for consumption off the premises."

Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation announced Friday it was suspending on-site consumption of alcohol at bars statewide. At the Beach Shack in Cocoa Beach, barstools stayed on the bar but alcohol to go was still available for sale.

More:As Florida's COVID-19 numbers jump to record levels again, bars ordered to stop alcohol sales while governor resists mask requirements

Halsey Beshears, the department secretary, said the action was taken because of an increase in COVID-19 cases and noncompliance by some businesses.

The state agency "believes this is a necessary step to take to protect public health as we continue working in partnership with industry and health officials to combat COVID-19," Beshears said in the statement.

The news comes the same day the state smashed the daily record for new COVID-19 cases, with 8,942 reported. That's a 62% increase over the previous record of 5,508 reported Wednesday.

Businesses directly affected include microbreweries, many of which are in Southwest Florida and serve alcohol for consumption on site.

"We had great support with our to-go sales previously so I think we’ll be OK," said Jordan Weisberg, co-owner, manager and head brewer of Point Ybel Brewing Co. in Fort Myers, via Facebook Messenger.

"These are tough times but we’ve adapted to our new environment which is key to getting through this."

The brewery will remain open for cans-to-go, he said, adding: "The locals need beer and we need the locals."

More:COVID-19 infection on the rise in children, teens in Southwest Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Fort Myers on Friday and discussed how the state has been addressing the pandemic. He briefly touched on the announcement to ban bars from serving drinks.

DeSantis said the decision was based on a failure to follow safety guidelines he outlined in recent months.

“There was widespread noncompliance and that led to issues," he said.

"So folks, just follow the guidelines and we’ll be in good shape. When you depart from that, then it becomes problematic and that’s been clear from the beginning.”

Brien Spina, owner of ROW Seafood restaurant that also includes Off The Hook Comedy Club, said he's been operating at 50% capacity per the state's safety guidelines.

With Friday's announcement, he at first thought he'd have to shut down again after reopening in mid-May. The restaurant serves food and alcohol and was planning to close after Saturday's show.

More:Southwest Florida is a hotspot as COVID-19 numbers soar across Florida

If restaurants were included, he said, he would have closed because 40% of his sales are alcohol.

Florida's total number of novel coronavirus cases stands at 122,960, more than double the June 10 report (56,960) and more than it did from the start of the pandemic in March through the end of May (56,163).

Spina reopened May 21, and his restaurant has been at the 50% state-required maximum capacity most every night.

"We’ve been busy. We've had to police ourselves every night," he said. "We could have sold another 125 tickets for every show but we can't. We've had to cut it off every night to stay within the guidelines."

Did you know?:COVID-19 can live on surfaces for days, but experts say that's not the main way it spreads