Florida Restaurant Dining Banned by Governor; Casinos Closed

By and | March 23, 2020

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned all onsite dining at restaurants statewide Friday and the Seminole Tribe closed its casinos, the latest virus -related closures affecting a state that is heavily dependent on tourism to pay its bills.

The governor’s order allows restaurants to still provide take-out and delivery, including alcoholic beverages. He had already closed the state’s bars to onsite sales. He also banned all non-emergency medical and dental procedures to preserve face masks and other disposable protective gear. Those supplies are used by doctors and nurses but are in short supply.

Some cities and counties statewide had already banned beach-going and set restrictions on bars and restaurants, including Miami-Dade County, the state’s most populous.

Three other large states have gone even further than DeSantis: California, New York and Illinois have ordered nearly all residents to stay home. DeSantis said Friday that he has that power, but he prefers a more collaborative approach, where government and residents work together rather than issuing blanket orders.

“I want to do things that will be followed and will be effective,” DeSantis said. “If you go too hard and then people lose confidence and rebel.”

Florida now had more than 560 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, as of Friday, 70% of them in neighboring Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, the state’s three most populous. That was about a 30% jump since Thursday. By Monday, the number of cases had risen to more than 1,100.

There have been 14 deaths statewide, including two residents at a Fort Lauderdale assisted living facility. Five others were sick at Atria Willow Wood and six more have tests pending, as of Friday.

DeSantis said the facility let staff and outside workers inside near the residents without screening, and brought the disease to them.

“That is exactly what you are not supposed to do,” he said. He said law enforcement and health officials will be embedded at the facility to monitor the situation.

Atria said in a statement Friday evening that the facility began screening visitors before receiving guidance from the state.

“As soon as the Broward County Department of Health notified us of the first confirmed case, we immediately escalated our protocols,” it said. “The Department of Health was quickly on-site and approved.”

The Seminoles’ six casinos generate billions annually and employ 14,000 people. As a sovereign tribal nation, the Seminoles do not have to heed the governor’s orders, but they said in a statement they no longer felt operating the casinos was safe.

At the tribe’s Hard Rock Casino near Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon, vacationers, diehard gamblers and bored locals enjoyed the last few hours of play but the noisy clangs from the machines were muted. Nearly half the machines were disabled to force players, some wearing gloves, to use machines at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

Victor and Alyssia Fletcher sat at the Hard Rock playing the “Betti the Yetti” slot machine after 90 minutes of black jack. They had driven from Norfolk, Virginia, to celebrate their first anniversary in Miami only to be greeted by closed doors everywhere.

“The bars are closed. We can’t go to the clubs and do any partying,” said Victor Fletcher, a 28-year-old chef. Even the aquarium closed, so they had come to the casino. Now it too was closing.

The state, which has no income tax, receives a large portion of its revenue from sales, hotel and other taxes paid not just by residents, but by the approximately 120 million annual visits drawn by Florida’s theme parks, cruises and beaches. That number will surely plummet this year because of the closures. The Legislature just passed a $92 billion budget Thursday.

Meanwhile, Florida opened its first state-run drive-thru testing facility Friday at a Broward park, where it will test health care workers and seniors with symptoms, along with those who recently were on a cruise or traveled internationally. About 400 people got tested Friday.

Dozens of National Guardsman in fatigues guided cars past empty playground equipment to a tent where healthcare workers in white, protective suits took nose swabs.

Officials hope they will soon have enough supplies to test different demographics, especially young healthy adults, to get a better sense of how many have the virus but aren’t experiencing symptoms.

“We just need to have a lot more people tested,” DeSantis said.

According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Associated Press writers Curt Anderson and Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this report.

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