As Florida enters Phase 3, local leaders and businesses take cautious approach

Published: Sep. 26, 2020 at 9:48 AM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Governor Ron DeSantis announced Florida’s entry into Phase 3 of its reopening plan Friday. Several hours later, the Executive Order was signed and made official.

But in the aftermath, local leaders and businesses aren’t in any hurry for drastic change.

The order restricts how local governments can enforce COVID-19 regulations, including the suspension of fines associated with mask mandates and other emergency measures.

Leon County has had civil fines attached to its mask mandate since June. Commissioner Bryan Desloge said the commission would take a hard look at the executive order at its Tuesday meeting.

He said he supports the governor’s plan, but expressed some concern about the timing of the reopening in Leon.

“We saw with the students returning a kind of a big upswing, that makes me really nervous, because we haven’t seen that settle to a great degree," he said. "But if the state as whole has, that’s the governor’s call. But one size doesn’t fit all.”

Gadsden County commissioners met Friday morning to renew the county’s COVID-19 emergency ordinance. They’ve been doing so on a 7-week rolling basis for months. The ordinance has been one of the most strict in the big bend, with curfews, mask mandates, and restaurant capacity restrictions.

The commissioners were told by county staff that Gov. DeSantis was prepared to strike down local restaurant restrictions. To prepare, they added a clause in the resolution striking out the restaurant restrictions contingent on a state-wide executive order.

Just a couple hours after the meeting, that possibility became reality. According to County Commissioner Brenda Holt, commissioners will iron out the details at next Friday’s emergency meeting.

Local leaders aren’t the only ones navigating the new executive order. Business owners are trying to make thoughtful decisions too.

A number of restaurants in Tallahassee posted to social media Friday, letting their customers know they would keep half capacity despite the beginning of Phase Three.

Please respect our wishes so we can be of safe sound and mind to offer the best experience possible when you join us. As...

Posted by The Hawthorn Bistro & Bakery on Friday, September 25, 2020

At Kool Beanz Cafe, owner Keith Baxter said he wouldn’t rush to fill every seat.

“My initial reaction, I think there’s a perception by doing that the crowds are roaring back again, and I don’t think that’ll be the case," he said.

As for bars, the executive order doesn’t specify what’s next for them. But Florida DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears told WCTV that his agency is “out of the policing business” with Friday’s executive order. This comes just a week after a limited reopening of bars state-wide.

At Bullwinkle’s Saloon on Tennessee Street, Manager John Palgutt is taking a cautious approach.

“There’s not enough information out there to make an informed decision on where to go immediately," he said. "We’re just waiting for guidance to figure out what to do next.”

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