Florida moving into Phase 3 of reopening, no limitations on restaurants

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Friday that Florida will be moving into full Phase 3 of reopening with no limitations on restaurants effective immediately.

“We’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said, while insisting that the state is prepared with plans in place if infections increase again.

Phase 3 means there will be no limitation on restaurant capacity, and can operate at a minimum of 50% capacity, regardless of rules by the local government.

"Every business has a right to operate... you can’t just say 'no' after six months and have people twisting in the wind,” he said.

DeSantis also said municipalities must justify rules limiting restaurant capacity between 50-100%.

RELATED: What does Phase 3 mean for wearing masks in public in Florida?

DeSantis made the announcement from The Birchwood, a St. Pete hotel which includes a restaurant and popular rooftop bar. 

The governor hinted at ending the capacity restriction on Thursday, saying while he understands there is a chance of a spread of the coronavirus, "we can't have these businesses dying."

“I don’t think that the closure of restaurants has been particularly effective,” DeSantis said Thursday in the Capitol. “They’re not going to be able to be closed by locals anymore, and they’ll be able to operate at the capacity that they’re comfortable with.”

RELATED: COVID-19 treatment underway in Florida has near-perfect success rate

Florida has been in Phase 2 for over 3 months. 

Earlier this month, DeSantis allowed bars to reopen. They were shut down after Phase 2 of reopening after a spike in COVID-19 cases statewide, with many tracing back to residents visiting bars.

“It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital that we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic,” Halsey Beshears, secretary of the DBPR, said.

RELATED: DeSantis: Florida 'not going back' on coronavirus reopening, despite new case surge

Florida, once considered the epicenter of the pandemic, has seen decreasing numbers since hitting a peak in the summer. The Florida Department of Health has not reported over 10,000 cases daily since July. The average number of cases per day in the last couple of weeks has been around 2,700.

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 original plan for Phase 3 allowed for the following changes:

  • Individuals older than 65 years of age and individuals with a serious underlying medical condition can resume public interactions, but should practice social distancing.
  • Non-vulnerable populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
  • Non-essential travel may continue.
  • Employees should resume unrestricted staffing of worksites and implement the final phasing in of employees returning to work.
  • Employees should resume non-essential travel and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel.
  • Local government meetings should return to in-person quorum and public participation for local government bodies.
  • Bars, pubs, and nightclubs that derive more than 50 percent of sales from alcohol should operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols. Businesses should maintain adequate sanitation practices. (UPDATE: Bars need local government approval to reopen to full capacity, but the state restrictions are lifted)
  • Restaurants and food service establishments may operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols. Businesses should maintain adequate sanitation practices.
  • Gyms and fitness centers should open to full capacity but should maintain adequate sanitation practices among employees and patrons during all hours of operation.
  • State parks should be fully opened, including overnight accommodations. Beaches should remain fully open.
  • Large venues such as movie theaters, concert halls, and bowling alleys should re-open fully with limited social distancing protocols.
  • Large spectator sporting events should consider reducing capacity with limited social distancing protocols.
  • Theme parks may return to normal operations with limited social distancing protocols.
  • Salons, barbershops and nail salons, should operate under full capacity but should consider removing all unnecessary, frequent-touch items such as magazines and newspapers, and maintain sanitation standards.
  • Retail businesses should operate at full capacity.

DeSantis did not specify if all businesses are operating at 100% capacity during Phase 3 during his Friday news conference. FOX 35 is working to get confirmation on any changes to his plan.

Before his announcement, DeSantis commented on the confrontations by protesters that recently occurred just a few doors down from The Birchwood.

On Wednesday, following the grand jury's announcement in the Breonna Taylor case, protests erupted throughout the country, and in St. Pete. A group of protesters were seen on video outside a restaurant that appears to be Parkshore Grill.

Some were seen involved in a confrontation with a couple eating dinner. Two protesters sat down on their table and the woman says, "This is my table," and tries to unseat one of them. The footage was just over a minute long.

"What we saw here in St. Petersburg the other night with mobs harassing innocent people," DeSantis said. 

Watch FOX 35 News for the latest updates.