Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would feel no fear bringing his family to a restaurant. Soon, he may allow more literal seats at the tables for dining out in Florida.
“You have a responsibility to get to yes,” DeSantis said, suggesting an expansion of capacity limits for restaurants may come in Phase Two of Florida’s reopening.
When DeSantis rolled out Phase One, which started Monday, he made clear restaurants and retailers could only allow 25% customer capacity. But particularly for restaurants, which for most of March and April could only provide take-out service, that creates a business challenge. Bringing back dining room service requires more staff, but limiting consumers makes it hard to justify the boost in payroll.
DeSantis noted at a press conference in Sarasota that there aren’t the same limitations on outdoor dining, and restaurants are allowed to expand the number of tables in the open air so long as six-foot separations for social distancing can be maintained.
“In understand those restaurant folks not doing take-out, it is tough to say I’m just going to do 25%, especially if you don’t have any outdoor seating,” he said.
But he felt it was an important baby step to open at a quarter capacity, even with the Re-Open Florida Task Force recommending 50% dining room capacity in Phase One.
The first phase of re-opening does not apply to the three South Florida counties with the highest concentrations of COVID-19 infections — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
There are parts of the state where a high dining room capacity would probably be acceptable now, DeSantis said.
“Yes, there will be limited seating indoors, but we want to get back to where you can go on full capacity,” he said.
“All the restaurants will be very cognizant about safety, and patrons will be cognizant.”
The take-out only era may have delivered DeSantis a new legislative priority. He noted the popularity of take-out alcohol, something he allowed in the pandemic only because bars shut down. Based on demand, he said he will likely ask the Legislature to change the law and allow drinks-to-go on a permanent basis.
DeSantis said he’s be comfortable taking his wife and three children to a restaurant now. He and First Lady Casey DeSantis are not in an at-risk demographic and neither are children unless they have underlying medical conditions.
That gives him confidence the pandemic won’t deliver the same consequence as the Spanish Flu, which in 1918 was killing school age children and soldiers at high rates.
At the same press conference, DeSantis touted drive-through testing at University Town Center. The 12th such site in Florida, it launched with a 400-test-per-day capacity that will rise to 750. The same goes for a new test site at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, according to Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.
DeSantis said antibody testing should begin next week at drive-up sites.
DeSantis also said strict measures would continue to limit the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes. That’s been a particular challenge in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
He now wants to make sure that nursing home residents taken to hospitals for outside care, even if they are not being treated for COVID-19, be tested for the coronavirus before being allowed re-entry to long-term care facilities.
The Governor voiced optimism about an expansion in testing statewide, and said the rate of those tested who come back with negative results has dropped to a record low since the start of the pandemic.