Florida ends restaurant capacity cap, moves to partial Phase 3 reopening

Just in time for the weekend, restaurants can operate at full capacity -- regardless of local government rules -- as Florida moves into a partial Phase 3 reopening.

The governor said Friday that Phase 3 in Florida would start immediately, but he issued an executive order that only addresses three things: restaurant capacity, fines for noncompliance, and the right to work.

Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at The Birchwood, a St. Pete hotel, Friday. His order lifts all restrictions on restaurant capacity, regardless of local rules. The order also says every business has the right to be open.

"Every business has a right to operate... you can’t just say 'no' after six months and have people twisting in the wind,” he said.

The order prohibits local governments from collecting fines from people who don’t wear face masks in public.

RELATED: Florida's governor expects 'full Super Bowl' in Tampa next year

The governor hinted at ending the capacity restriction on Thursday, saying while he understands there is a chance of a spread of the coronavirus, "we can't have these businesses dying."

“I don't think that the closure of restaurants has proven to be effective,” DeSantis said Thursday. “I get how you could potentially have spread there. … But we can't have these businesses dying. So, they're not going to be able to be closed by locals anymore. And they will be able to operate at the capacity that they're comfortable with.”

PREVIOUS: DeSantis takes aim at local restaurant restrictions

He said Phase 3 doesn't change much outside the hospitality industry, since most other businesses have reopened across the state.

This month, Florida allowed bars to once again serve drinks for on-site consumption. During the pandemic, they were forced to close twice, but were allowed to reopen Sept. 14 with an indoor capacity at 50%.

Before that, some bars and breweries had to obtain a food license, and act as restaurants in order to reopen. Some put out menus for quick items, like hot dogs and Hot Pockets.

RELATED: 2,847 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Friday; 120 new deaths

The virus has claimed nearly 14,000 Floridians since March, with an average of 99 deaths a day reported by the state Department of Health over the past seven days. The state has averaged more than 100 deaths a day since mid-July.

According to the original plan created by the governor’s task force on reopening, Phase 3 “will begin after the successful conclusion of Phase 2, which includes a downward trajectory of the syndromic and epidemiology criteria while maintaining adequate health care capacity. This will occur when there is no evidence of a rebound or resurgence of COVID-19 cases and satisfies the benchmarks outlined in this Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. plan.”

Read the original Phase 3 reopening plan on page 28 of this document: