The governor of Florida, whose state was among the last to be locked down against the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, announced on Wednesday he would permit limited economic reopening next week while leaving restraints in place for the greater Miami area.
Under the Phase One plan for relaxing mandatory business closures imposed at the start of the month, Governor Ron DeSantis said retail merchants and restaurants could welcome customers back inside their establishments starting Monday, but admissions will be limited to 25% of capacity.
Eateries may also reopen outdoor seating with appropriate social distancing, and medical practices can resume elective surgeries and procedures, DeSantis, the Republican governor of a key electoral swing state, said at a news conference.
But movie theaters, bars and fitness clubs will remain shuttered for the time being, he said.
The governor’s plan also leaves existing restrictions in place for all commercial establishments in the densely populated South Florida metropolitan region consisting of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Florida has a high proportion of elderly residents, who are especially vulnerable to the virus, and waited until early April to clamp down on commerce – after most other states had already done so. But Florida has avoided the worst of the health crisis seen in other states such as New York and New Jersey.
Still, Florida becomes the most populous of about a dozen states forging ahead with economic reopenings despite a lack of wide-scale virus testing and the means to trace close contacts of newly infected individuals, as recommended by White House guidelines on April 16.
“Part of our strategy in Phase One is to expand testing,” DeSantis said, adding that Florida would increase walk-up virus screening sites to 11 throughout the state. “We want to be able to spot trends in the under-served communities.
With millions of Americans out of jobs since stay-at-home orders were imposed across the country, pressure has been mounting on governors to ease restrictions.
Public health experts have urged caution, saying that a rollback of social distancing without large-scale virus testing or the means to trace close contacts of infected individuals could trigger a second wave of infections.
U.S. deaths from the novel coronavirus topped 60,000 on Wednesday and the outbreak will soon be deadlier than any flu season since 1967, according to a Reuters tally.