While bars remain closed in South Florida, Palm Beach County may once again lead the charge in South Florida with entering the next phase of reopening.
County commissioners on Tuesday discussed the potential of reopening bars — less than a week after Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the green light for bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity across the state. Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade elected to keep bars closed, which have been shuttered since March due to COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner directed staff to evaluate a timeline and operational plan for bars to reopen in a “safe and prudent” manner.
“Bars have been unfairly targeted — perhaps not unfairly targeted — but put to the side based upon no conduct of their own,” Kerner said during Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s a concern about congregating at social spots. I think we need to think deeply about how we can help them and how we can return them safely.”
While Broward County announced late Friday it will keep its bars closed, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Jimenez said “some” bars could reopen soon, according to the Miami Herald.
Palm Beach County officially entered Phase 2 of its coronavirus recovery plan on Sept. 8, allowing many businesses such as movie theaters and bowling alleys to reopen. As part of county’s five-step plan, bars were not given a reopening date because they were still closed statewide.
County commissioner Hal Valeche has been ardently in favor of reopening the economy. Valeche said Tuesday he would “scrap the timeline completely," allowing any business under Phase 2 to reopen immediately. Citing Palm Beach County’s downward trend of cases, Valeche said the county is in better shape than some other parts of the state, which have fewer coronavirus restrictions.
“We’re doing better than [other counties] are, yet we’re tying our own hands behind our back and depriving these people of the ability to make a living when our health situation is better than most counties,” Valeche said.
"So I just fail to see the logic, it seems to feel like a disconnect between the actual situation with the disease in Palm Beach County and what we’re allowing our businesses to do.
Commissioner Robert Weinroth also was in favor moving faster in the recovery process, saying he “hated” the county’s five-step plan for Phase 2. With bars being closed for over six months and many employees out of work, Weinroth said it was incumbent of the commission to help those who are struggling financially.
“I am cognizant of the fact people are going to be sick,” Weinroth said. “That doesn’t minimize any of this, but we to weigh our priorities and not make everybody find themselves in situation where the have to decide, ‘Is it keeping the lights on or is it eating?’ and we are seeing more and more situations like that.”
“These are people we’ve caused great pain for the greater good. And now we need to make sure we are going to do what is right for our stakeholders.”
Tuesday’s meeting was emotional for Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who announced her 19-year-old daughter is currently in the emergency room after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
McKinlay mentioned a spike in cases at Florida State, which saw nearly 400 students test positive last week. She urged caution in reopening.
“I don’t think it’ll be any surprise to anyone that I’m concerned about moving forward too fast for personal reasons and for public health reasons,” McKinlay said.
“I would like to just put a word of caution and ask staff if they will beef up the community education team and just put those industries and the other bars in town on alert, if that’s how we move forward, that I plan on watching them all very carefully and we’ll have zero tolerance for rule-breakers.
"What we’ve seen in university towns is a culture of the rules being bent by the bar owners and we can’t afford that.”
Echoing McKinlay’s sentiments, Commissioner Gregg Weiss asked for patience with reopening bars, saying he said he wants to see how entering Phase 2 will affect the county’s overall health.
“[If we move too quickly]. we won’t have that ability to understand what’s happening and to be able to manage it quickly," Weiss said. "And then [we] end up back where we were in July and June, when things got out of control because we moved too quickly and didn’t act fast enough to impose the changes we needed to slow this thing down.”
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