Florida closing bars, nightclubs for 30 days; issues sweeping changes for restaurants, beaches

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced tighter guidelines for the state, including closing all bars and nightclubs for 30 days. The closure begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The decision comes after nearly 200 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The decision comes on St. Patrick’s Day, when bars are usually packed in celebration. The governor said Tuesday morning, despite the "social distancing" recommendation by the CDC and White House, Florida officials noticed there are still large groups of people congregating at bars.

“We view that as something that could be problematic for the spread of the virus. If they’re not meeting in these big groups, the chance that they will pass it on is less,” DeSantis said.

He added that all restaurants must now be at 50-percent capacity and seating must be staggered. Employers are also required to screen all employees. 

Meanwhile, in some parts of Pinellas County, it's business as usual for a beautiful March day in Florida. 

MORE: Beachgoers draw circles in the sand, use pool noodles to create social distance

For the past few days, Florida beaches were busy, and DeSantis said it's another crowded situation he wants to scale back on. He said the state will apply the CDC guidance and said beachgoers must meet in groups smaller than 10.

“I think the steps we’re taking will really reduce density, reduce crowds,” the governor added.

However, on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, tables at most restaurants were empty.

“Timing is everything in this world and this timing is not for fortuitous for us," says Tom Golden, owner of St. Petersburg’s Lure restaurant.

He says if the novel coronavirus had come in August, it wouldn’t have hit the hospitality industry nearly as hard as it’s hitting now.

Servers, whose income is made up mostly of tips, are especially worried.

"It kind of feels like the economy is about to crash on me," said Toma Karaleviciute, a 23-year-old server. “I’ve proposed to my boss that maybe we check out some federal grants.”

An expert at the University of Florida on the economy in the Tampa Bay area said putting cash in the hands of vulnerable, hourly workers would help.

“If it’s not direct cash, it could be an emergency loan program, interest-free,” said Professor Balaji Padmanabhan of the USF Muma College of Business. “That probably needs to come from the federal government and that’s a must, right now.”

Padmanabhan says the state has new bridge loans available to help small businesses through the novel coronavirus crisis. For more information about the loan program, visit https://floridadisasterloan.org.

RELATED: Gov. DeSantis calls for Florida universities to do online classes through rest of spring semester

Following the governor's announcement, Miami-Dade County closed all gyms, breweries, banquet halls and restaurant dining rooms with a capacity of more than 8 people. Gyms with a capacity of less than 8 people, or those in residential buildings, police departments or fire stations are exempt. The closures do not apply to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations or convenience stores, WSVN reports.

The city of Miami Beach announced the closure of all restaurant dining rooms and gyms, while in Orlando, city officials imposed a ban of on-site alcohol sales at all venues, including restaurants, through the end of March.

DeSantis also called for Florida universities to do online classes for the remainder of the spring semester. The Board of Governors is expected to draft a plan. The governor's decision comes after four University of Florida students tested positive for coronavirus. There are now 192 people who tested positive for coronavirus. 

The latest Floridian to die from coronavirus was a 77-year-old man at a Broward County assisted living facility. The governor said he passed away Monday evening. Officials did not name the assisted living facility or the patient.


Clearwater Beach on March 17, 2020.

If you feel sick

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

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