Florida’s gyms and fitness centers can open on Monday

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the lifting of additional restrictions during a Friday press conference as the state moves to recovery from its shutdown to try to mitigate the effects of the novel coronavirus.

Gyms and fitness centers in Florida can reopen on Monday, May 18, and restaurants and retailers can up their capacity to 50%, according to an announcement by Gov. Ron DeSantis at a Friday press conference in Jacksonville.

In addition, museums and libraries can up their capacity to 50% as well.

Bars will remain closed as will movie theaters.

DeSantis said the changes will complete phase one of the state’s “Safe. Smart. Step-by Step.” plan for recovery.

Gyms and fitness centers will need to practice social distancing, keeping 6 feet apart with groups of less than 10. Machines and equipment must be sanitized between uses.

Restaurants and retail establishments also must continue to use social distancing and sanitation measures. Restaurants can use partitions between tables or booths to comply with social distancing rules.

DeSantis cited a continuing decrease in cases and positive tests, saying that any recent increases were attributed to issues in the state’s prisons, long-term care facilities and increased testing.

DeSantis said mitigation measures enacted were done to ensure that hospitals were not overwhelmed and that people could get care. That was never a problem, he said.

Protection for the vulnerable, which includes people age 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions, will continue to be a priority, he said.

He said the state will be doing more to protect residents and patients in long-term care facilities, such as requiring staff members to be tested every 14 days. They will be required to wear personal protective equipment, face masks and gloves when caring for patients. Visitation will continue to be prohibited.

Hospitals will not be allowed to transfer patients back to long-term care facilities until the patient is tested for COVID-19. In addition, the state is working to establish COVID-19 dedicated facilities where patients or residents that do not require hospital care can go to be isolated.

DeSantis believes it is possible to open the state’s economy and still protect the vulnerable.

He said elective surgeries could continue, pointing out that those aren’t necessarily cosmetic procedures, but were surgeries that could be scheduled.

He encouraged people who have been putting off health care to go to the doctor or hospital if needed. He said some have been afraid to go even when having a heart attack or stroke.

He is welcoming sports teams to come to the state for training and to play games without fans.

He said amusement parks could begin submitting reopening plans. The plans must contain information on how reopening will be done, including measures to protect staff and an endorsement from a local official.

“My goal on all this is safety first,” he said.

As to short-term vacation rentals, which have been closed due to an executive order, the governor now says counties can submit a request to open them; however, like amusement parks, there must be a safety plan. He would like to see rentals restricted on Florida residents only.

He says he will be making an announcement on summer camps and other activities for kids soon.

He hasn’t make his decision yet, but said “to deprive kids of activities over the summer would be a mistake.”

He said many had already missed activities, especially high school students, which were important to them.

DeSantis said the data shows the risk for kids is low.

“I’d have no problem with my kids playing with other kids,” he said.

He has no timetable on when additional announcements will be made.

“I’m just excited to take some more small steps to open Florida,” he said.

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