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Florida bans alcohol consumption in bars as virus spirals

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Florida banned alcohol consumption at its bars on Friday as the coronavirus threatened to spiral out of control in the state.

The move came as Florida’s daily confirmed coronavirus cases neared 9,000, a new record almost double the previous mark set just two days earlier.

The Florida agency that governs bars announced the alcohol ban on Twitter just minutes after the Department of Health reported 8,942 new confirmed cases, topping the previous record of 5,500 set on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced he would sign an executive order closing beaches in the county over the Fourth of July weekend.

“I have decided that the only prudent thing to do to tamp down this recent uptick is to crack down on recreational activities that put our overall community at higher risk,” he said in a statement.

State officials have attributed much of the new outbreak to young adults flocking to bars after they reopened in most of the state three weeks ago, with many of them ignoring social distancing restrictions aimed at lowering the virus’s spread.

Bars, like restaurants, were supposed to limit patrons to 50% of their normal capacity, under the state’s emergency orders. Patrons had to sit at tables, with groups six feet apart. No congregating at the bar or on the dance floor was permitted.

The new order prohibits any establishment that makes more than 50% of its revenue from alcohol sales from serving alcohol for consumption on site.

Restaurants that primarily sell food can still serve alcohol to customers seated at tables.

Business and Professional Regulations Secretary Halsey Beshears said he issued the order because too many bars and patrons were breaking the rules, overwhelming his department’s inspectors.

“This was more than we could keep up with,” Mr Beshears said.

He said people got tired of being cooped up and maybe thought the threat of coronavirus had lessened because news coverage shifted to the protests caused by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

“People in general just wanted to get out and experience a normalcy,” he said. He said there was no timetable for rescinding the order.

More than 24,000 new cases have been reported statewide since last Saturday, more than a fifth of the 111,724 cases confirmed in the state since March 1. The death toll climbed on Friday to 3,366, a one-day increase of 39.

Governor Ron DeSantis said on Friday that he still did not plan to issue a statewide order requiring masks, saying this was best handled at the county and city level.

Miami, other cities and several counties including Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Orange are requiring masks in public places.

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