Florida gymnasiums and fitness centers are among the latest places able to begin reopening.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the latest steps in his plan to get businesses back up and running during the coronavirus pandemic at a Friday press conference in Jacksonville.
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DeSantis called it a “full Phase One,” saying gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to reopen starting Monday under social distancing guidelines and restricted capacity.
Gyms and fitness centers were not among places opened in the first round of phase one, but DeSantis said, because the coronavirus attacks the medically vulnerable, it's important people have the ability to work out.
"So don't we want people to be getting exercise, don't we want people to stay in shape?” said DeSantis. “It's going to actually make them more resistant to severe consequences, so I think this is good, I think it's important."
DeSantis added that outdoor training, like Crossfit, is good, and if people work out at an indoor gym:
“Sanitize machines and surfaces after use. I mean, that should be happening anyway. If you’re sweating on the dip bar, clean the dip bar when you’re done doing dips, I mean come on,” said DeSantis.
In addition, capacity for restaurants and retail stores will be expanded to 50 percent. Restaurants can use spacing of tables, as well as partitions, to keep distance between customers inside.
“I think that that’s something that a lot of the people in the restaurant industry have been hoping for,” he said. “I think it can be done safely, a lot of other states already went to that right off the bat. My initial recommendation was to do 50 percent, from my task force. I wanted to ease into it, but I think they’ve really thought well about it.”
However, bars will remain closed, as DeSantis said they were not included in guidance provided by the White House COVID-19 Task Force.
Museums and libraries will be also allowed to expand capacity to 50 percent, depending on local regulations.
Florida amusement parks can submit detailed plans to the state about reopening with specific dates and through cooperation with local government and health officials.
“They should identify the date certain that they believe that they could resume safe operations,” DeSantis said. “They have to provide how they're going to do it, how they're going to accommodate the guests, how they're going to protect the staff, and then they need to have an endorsement from the relevant official in their locality.”
DeSantis also said short-term rental vacation properties can be reopened if plans are submitted and approved. He said if potential renters are from areas hit hard by coronavirus, like the Tri-State area, such plans would likely be declined. However, if renters are from elsewhere in Florida, they’d likely be approved.
Movie theaters will also remain closed – but drive-ins are allowed to continue operating.
DeSantis also said nursing homes and long-term care facilities remain an important part of his expanded Phase 1 plans, with staff testing as the main focus.
“We want all staff to be tested, and that’s just very important. That’s going to be a multi-pronged approach,” said DeSantis. “We do need long-term care facilities who have the ability to self-test to let us know. We can provide the lab capacity; we can provide the supplies.”
DeSantis added he hasn’t made a decision on summer camps yet, but he expects to make that announcement in the near future. He added that the virus tends to attack people who have underlying health conditions or who aren’t in good physical condition.
Earlier in the week, he said that plans were being devised for youth sports programs.
“I would say the experience in Florida has been very, very low risk for minors, which I think is a really, really good thing,” DeSantis said. “And I've said many times, I would have no problem with my kids playing with other kids or doing that, because I just view them as a low-risk environment. I think there's a whole bunch of other risks that are more significant that parents happily accept every single day.”
DeSantis did not address the status of a number of other businesses Friday, including breweries, playhouses, bowling alleys, tattoo shops and massage establishments.
The initial parts of first phase included allowing restaurants and retail outlets that had closed because of the virus to reopen with 25 percent indoor occupancy. It was loosely based on recommendations from the White House and a state task force.
Barbers and hair salons were allowed to reopen, with restrictions, earlier this week.
On Thursday, DeSantis announced the two hardest hit Florida counties – Miami-Dade and Broward – would become the last counties to join in “Phase One” of his reopening plan. That will also happen Monday, two weeks after most of the rest of the state.
Palm Beach County was added to the Phase One list after the other 64 Florida counties began reopening some businesses May 4.
Democratic lawmakers warned Friday that plunging into more reopening without adequate COVID-19 testing being available would use Floridians as economic “guinea pigs.”
“I think we're sort of shooting in the dark here,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, while at the Old Capitol on Friday. “Because without testing, without much more significant testing of more Floridians, it's going to be hard for us to make a determination that we're doing this safely and effectively.”
“Clearly, we do need to begin to look at opening,” Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. “But we don't need to do it too soon, because we’re just got to make it more difficult. This experiment that the governor is harping upon, this experiment is going to utilize the people of Florida as the subject like guinea pigs.”
DeSantis said the state will continue to monitor and prepare for any outbreaks or resurgences of the virus. But while research on a vaccine continues, he said, “everyone should recognize that you will never get to a point where you can just say it's gone.”
Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, expressed concerns about workers at bars, Central Florida theme parks and other high-volume businesses if they are reopened.
“Imagine the hundreds and thousands of people going there. How are you going to control them? How are you going to safeguard your employees?” Torres said.
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