Florida stops liquor sales at bars, pubs and nightclubs

Effective June 26, bars, pubs and nightclubs may no longer serve alcohol in the state of Florida.

Effective immediately, all vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on premises who derive more than 50% of gross revenue from those sales must suspend sales.

The order from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation was issued Friday, June 26.

Vendors may still sell alcoholic beverages in sealed containers for consumption off premises.

The order comes on the day the state set a new all-time high in COVID-19 cases. The number of confirmed cases in Florida residents was up to 120,960 on Friday. Another 2,386 cases were reported in non-residents, bringing the state’s total to 122,960 — 8,942 more than the number reported on Thursday.

Pinellas also set a new record with 430 new cases on Friday, bringing the total to 5,099.

The state also has seen a steady rise in the positivity rate for testing. As of June 25 the average rate was 6.9%, up from 6.6% on June 24, 6.5% on June 23, and 6% on June 22 and June 23. On Friday, June 19, the average rate was 5.8%.

Officials also have reported that more were testing positive in the younger demographic.

In DBPR’s order, it said some of the cases involving younger people “are suspected to come from visits to bars, pubs or nightclubs who have disregarded the restrictions” in phase two of the state’s Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step recovery plan.

In phase two, bars, pubs and nightclubs, were allowed to operate at 50% of their indoor capacity as long they provided service to seated customers only.

When Pinellas County Commissioners discussed making face masks mandatory on June 18, prior to issuing that order on June 23, County Administrator Barry Burton said that community spread of COVID-19, especially in ages 25-34, was occurring at an “alarming pace.”

He said local bars were allowing hundreds of young adults to pack into their establishments. He equated the problem to those the county experienced during spring break.

County officials and local health experts are concerned about the rising number of cases and positivity rates. On Friday, the county’s average positivity rate was up to 6%, up from 5.6% on June 25, 5.5% on June 24 and 5.1% on June 23. The average rate on Friday, June 19, was 4%.

“The curve is exponential at an alarming rate,” said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Department of Health in Pinellas, adding that the only tools to fight community spread was social distancing and face masks.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri pointed to a problem with local bars failing to limit the number of people who come inside. He said dance clubs had crowds that were “wall-to-wall and shoulder-to-shoulder” and some weren’t even making an effort to comply with the governor’s rules.

It seems the state agrees.

“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,” the order said.

The order does not apply to restaurants.

“Vendors who are also licensed as public food service establishments or restaurants may continue to operate for on-premises consumption of food and beverages at tables as long as they follow the rules and derive 50% or less of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages,” according to the order.

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