South Florida restaurants and casinos reopen as governor vows no more COVID-19 shutdowns

MIAMI (AP) — Some coronavirus restrictions started easing up Monday in parts of South Florida.

In Miami-Dade County, restaurants were allowed to welcome back diners to indoor seating for the first time in almost two months, provided masks were worn and the establishments operated at 50% capacity.

In Palm Beach County, officials issued an order allowing tattoo and body piercing parlors, as well as tanning salons, to reopen starting Monday.

In Miami-Dade County, most indoor dining has been banned in the county since early July to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“This does not mean this is over by a long shot,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in an online news conference. “While we’re heading in the right direction, we’re not out of the woods.”

The loosening up of restrictions in South Florida comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was considering allowing South Florida to move into Phase 2 , which would allow more businesses to resume operations.

DeSantis reiterated that idea Monday at a news conference in The Villages retirement community, saying he’s looking at reopening bars and nightclubs and wants the three South Florida counties – Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade – to join the rest of the state in reopening businesses.

“Everything’s open except the nightclubs and the pubs, and that’s something we’re going to address,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to work on our three southern Florida counties, getting them where we are. And that’s really the last piece of the puzzle.”

DeSantis vowed never to have another lockdown in Florida. “I hear people say they’ll shut down the country, and, honestly, I cringe,” he said.

Before his visit to The Villages, DeSantis held a panel discussion in Tallahassee with President Donald Trump’s new pandemic adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, who noted that infections and deaths are declining in the hardest hit states.

“The American public should feel cautiously optimistic here about what’s going on,” Atlas said. “There is no need for fear at this point.”

Atlas downplayed the risk of infections in young people, saying activities like college football needed to be reopened because communities depended on them economically.

“This shouldn’t really be a point of controversy. College football should be open. It can be done safely,” Atlas said. “College sports is a big part of America and it’s a big part of the economic engine.”

Atlas also questioned the need to test people for coronavirus who do not have symptoms.

“When you start a program of testing simply to detect positive cases among asymptomatic low-risk groups, the outcome from that is to close the schools,” Atlas said. “And the goal of testing is not to close things. The goal of testing is to protect the vulnerable while we open the schools and open the economy.”

Meanwhile, Florida’s largest school district resumed classes Monday, though they were online rather than in person. Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ classes will remain online for at least a few weeks until the number of coronavirus cases in the county trends downward enough to resume in-person instruction.

But the online learning got off to a rocky start. The school district posted on Twitter that its website was having connectivity problems. “The problem has been identified and staff is working diligently to resolve it,” the district said Monday morning.

Florida reported around 1,900 new coronavirus cases Monday, raising the state’s total to 623,471 cases. Florida also reported 68 new deaths Monday, raising the state’s total to 11,331 deaths.

A fourth Florida lawmaker reported having COVID-19. State Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater said on Facebook that he was being treated at the Largo Medical Center but expected his stay to be short. The Republican lawmaker said he had been self-isolating since last Wednesday.

“My symptoms vary,” he said. “This pandemic is not over but we will get through it. Keep wearing masks, social distancing, and washing your hands frequently.”

Also Monday, DeSantis extended for the fifth time an executive order that placed a freeze on evictions and mortgage foreclosures. The freeze had been set to end Tuesday but will now last until October 1. The original order was signed April 2.

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