TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in Florida on Friday in a move to reopen the state’s economy despite the spread of the coronavirus.
The Republican governor’s move is sure to stoke debate in a politically crucial state, where the pandemic has become intertwined with the upcoming presidential election. DeSantis is a major ally of President Donald Trump.
DeSantis took the action even as he acknowledged that the pandemic was far from over.
Florida has long been a COVID-19 hotspot, with nearly 700,000 people infected by the virus since the pandemic began in March. Nearly 14,000 Floridians have died.
Since the state’s number of cases peaked in July, the number of new infections have steadily declined.
The outbreak prompted the governor to close bars and nightclubs, and restricted restaurants to take-out dining for months. Amusement parks ground to a halt.
The closures battered the economy, leaving hundreds of thousands of Floridians unemployed.
DeSantis has slowly reopened the state for business since then, allowing restaurants and bars to reopen at half capacity, even as the pandemic continues to spread.
Florida added 2,847 confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, pushing the statewide total since March 1 to 695,887. The state also announced 120 new virus deaths, pushing its total to 14,038. Hospitalizations declined by 34 to 2,137 people.
The governor’s announcement Friday would allow restaurants across the state to immediately reopen at full capacity — and would bar cities and counties from ordering restaurants to close, unless they can justify a closure for economic or health reasons.