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Coming Out of the Dark? Florida Governor Issues First Phase of Plan to Reopen the Sunshine State

On April 29, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order (EO) No. 2020-112, outlining the first phase of a three-phase plan to lift stay-at-home restrictions and reopen Florida following the state’s COVID-19 closures. Phase 1 begins the “path to re-opening Florida [to] promote business operation and economic recovery while maintaining focus on core safety principles.” In essence, the governor’s restrictions on providing and obtaining essential services and activities, as described in EO 20-91 and its attachments, remain the same other than the specific businesses permitted to reopen in Phase 1. (For a detailed analysis of EO 20-91, please see our article, “Florida Governor Issues Statewide Stay-at-Home Order.”)

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. on May 4, 2020, the following relaxed guidelines will take effect in Florida (except for Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties):

  • Restaurants and food establishments may allow on-site consumption of food and alcohol with the following restrictions:

    • Indoor occupancy is limited to 25 percent of the building’s capacity; and

    • Outdoor occupancy is permissible if appropriate social distancing is maintained (i.e., “a minimum of 6 feet between parties, only seating parties of 10 or fewer people and keeping bar counters closed to seating”).

  • In-store retail establishments may open storefronts as long as they “operate at no more than 25 percent of their building occupancy and abide by the safety guidelines issued by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] and [Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)].”

  • Museums and libraries may open so long as they operate at no more than 25 percent occupancy, provided that:

    • the local government permits its local public museums and libraries to open; and

    • “interactive functions and exhibits, including child play areas, remain closed.”

  • Elective medical procedures may resume so long as the facility:

    • can immediately convert to a facility to treat any surge in COVID-19 patients;

    • has adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) required to respond to a surge in COVID-19 patients;

    • “has not sought any additional federal, state, or local assistance regarding PPE supplies since resuming elective procedures” and

    • “has not refused to provide support to … skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and other long-term care residential providers.”

EO 20-112 maintains the following previously enacted restrictions and business closures:

  • “Bars, pubs and nightclubs that derive more than 50 percent of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages shall continue to suspend on-premises consumption”;

  • Vacation rentals shall continue to suspend operations;

  • Gyms and fitness centers shall remain closed; and

  • Airport screenings, roadway checkpoints, and isolation or quarantine for 14 days for individuals traveling to Florida from areas with substantial community spread, including the New York Tri-State Area and the State of Louisiana.

Although not explicitly listed in EO 2020, the governor’s FAQs on Executive Order 20-112 outline continued closures for salons and barbershops (except for “the portions of those businesses with on-site retail sales,” which “may re-open at 25 percent building occupancy”) and restrictions on visitors at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Lastly, at a press conference on April 29, 2020, Governor DeSantis announced that Phase 1 would include continued distance learning for schools.

EO 20-112 is a baseline on which covered businesses may open. Local authorities may adopt more stringent requirements on businesses, parks, and beaches openings.

Governor DeSantis’s order provides the following recommendations for Floridians during Phase 1:

  • Limit personal interactions outside the home other than to seek services permitted by the prior Safer at Home Order, EO 20-91, or the services permitted by EO 20-112.

  • “Senior citizens and individuals with a significant underlying medical condition … are strongly encouraged to stay home and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

  • Avoid congregating in “large groups,” currently defined as groups of people greater than 10.

  • Avoid nonessential travel.

  • Adhere to the CDC’s guidelines regarding 14-day isolation following travel on a cruise, international travel, or travel to a location with significant presence of COVID-19.

According to EO 20-112, businesses intending to open “should continue to follow safety guidelines issued by the CDC and OSHA.” While EO 20-112 does not mandate the use of masks, many local governments require their use, and local agency guidance may be instructive on this point.

Excluded from Governor DeSantis’s Phase 1 reopening plan are Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. These three counties contain 28.9 percent of Florida’s population and the highest density of COVID-19 cases in Florida. As of April 29, 2020, Florida had over 33,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which 1,218 had resulted in death. Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties accounted for 57.3 percent of the deaths and 59.5 percent of the cases in Florida. Despite there being a hold on a comprehensive reopening in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, certain outdoor recreational facilities have begun reopening.

Palm Beach County issued Emergency Order 2020-005, reopening public parks and natural areas, golf courses, boating and marine activities, public tennis courts, and community swimming pools under continued adherence to CDC guidelines. Emergency Order 2020-005 went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 29, 2020.

Broward County’s Emergency Order 20-08 reopens public parks, boating and marine activities, and golf courses on a limited basis with continued adherence to CDC guidelines. Pool decks and pools will remain closed except as required for essential services, or use on single-family residential lots or in housing developments, such as condominiums, under limited circumstances. Emergency Order 20-08 further expands existing facial covering requirements to include food preparation workers, but such coverings are not required for individuals with breathing difficulties or to the extent that the coverings are subject to a religious objection. This order went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 29, 2020.

Miami-Dade County’s Emergency Order 21-20 reopens all parks and recreational facilities; marinas, boat launches, docking, fueling, marine supply, and other marina services; and golf courses under certain parameters, including adherence to social distancing and use of facial coverings, with limited exceptions. Emergency Order 21-20 went into effect at 6:00 a.m. on April 29, 2020.

Beaches in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties remain closed.

Details regarding the next phase of Florida’s reopening plan have not yet been announced. However, it is expected that Phase 2 will include additional relaxed restrictions on hotels and schools. There is no timetable for when Phase 2 will begin.

© 2022, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 123

About this Author

Stephanie C. Generotti Associate  Tampa

Stephanie was born and raised in Plantation, Florida. She graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in Telecommunication from University of Florida where she focused on sports broadcasting. She graduated cum laude from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2014. While in law school, Stephanie was on the executive board of The Florida Moot Court Team and Journal of Law and Public Policy. She received the Best Brief Award at the Herbert Wechsler National Moot Court Competition and book awards in Advanced Legal Research and Trial Practice.

Karen E. Smeda Associate Tampa Employment Law

Karen Smeda focuses her practice on representing and counseling employers in labor and employment law matters. Ms. Smeda developed her interest in labor and employment law while working as residential staff for the West Campus Housing System, where she became familiar with the policies and procedures used by large employers, like Cornell University. She also worked as a 2L law clerk for the U.S. Department of Labor during the summer of 2017.

Ms. Smeda graduated from Cornell Law School in 2018. During law school, she served as the Senior Notes Editor for the Cornell International...