Florida’s bars can reopen on Monday with restrictions

Florida is allowing bars and other vendors that sell alcoholic beverages to reopen for on-premises consumption beginning Monday, Sept. 14.

The state of Florida has decided to allow bars and other vendors that sell alcoholic beverages to reopen for on-premises consumption beginning Monday, Sept. 14.

Operations must comply with phase two of the state’s “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” recovery plan. According to the plan, indoor occupancy is limited to 50%. Patrons must be seated to allow bar service. Outdoor seating and service must have appropriate social distancing.

This is the state’s second attempt to reopen its bars. After they were allowed to open in June, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 increased, especially younger people. The state suspected that the cases originated at bars, pubs or nightclubs that had disregarded the restrictions and allowed people to congregate.

The state suspended on-premises alcohol consumption at establishments that weren’t licensed to sell food on Friday, June 26.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation issued the order the day the state set a new all-time high in COVID-19 cases. Pinellas also set a one-day record that Friday.

County Administrator Barry Burton and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri reported that local bars were allowing large number of young people to congregate inside their establishments. The sheriff said some weren’t even trying to comply with the governor’s rules.

According to the DBPR’s order, “noncompliance by bars and other vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on premises is suspected through the state to such a degree as to make individualized enforcement efforts impractical and insufficient at this time.”

However, officials now say it is time to reopen the businesses again.

“In meetings with hundreds of owners of bars and breweries across the state, I’ve heard their stories of struggle, and I’ve observed their serious commitment to making health and safety a continuing priority in their businesses,” said DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears. “It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital that we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic.”

Pinellas County government reminds bars that they must not only comply with the state’s rules that restricts occupancy to 50% and requires that patrons be seated to be served, as well as the social distancing requirement outdoors, they must also comply with countywide restrictions.

A county ordinance requires employees to wear a face covering whether directly or indirectly preparing food or drinks, whether having customer contact or not, and whether indoors or outdoors.

Patrons must wear a face covering except when seated and consuming food or a drink and distanced six feet from other parties. Standing at a bar is prohibited.

Tables and bar stools must be spaced so that individuals and their companions are separated 6 feet from others. Tables are limited to 10 guests.

Standing areas are not allowed. Patrons waiting to be seated must remain distanced in groups of no more than 10 people.

Bars and restaurants must establish rules that encourage social distancing, hand-washing and other protective measures based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.