The Wharf Fort Lauderdale reopens with a crowd of mask-less partygoers

Cindy Krischer Goodman, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

Closed for most of 2020 because of the pandemic, The Wharf Fort Lauderdale reopened Friday night with crowds of mask-less young partygoers dancing, drinking and hanging out with no social distancing.

Pandemic? Videos and photos on social media from opening night show hundreds of young people jammed together drinking cocktails under a covered bar area. Almost all are without facemasks.

“It’s frightening. It’s insane,” said Dale Holness, Broward County Commissioner and former County Mayor. “I expect people to be more conscious of the effect this disease is having on our lives.”

The Wharf Fort Lauderdale, a signature downtown open-air entertainment and gathering spot, re-opened as the weather began to cool, college students returned for the Thanksgiving holiday and the Fort Lauderdale Air Show brought visitors to South Florida.

A DJ under the Instagram name of @fielo_ and fellow attendee @mikemart5 captured the scene on their Instagram stories: a mass crowd socializing as if it were a regular party night in South Florida.

Dr. Ralph Levy, who lives nearby, walked by The Wharf around 9 p.m. and watched the scene in disbelief. “As a doctor who has gone through this since March it was disheartening,” he said. “The place was packed, everybody was close together.”

Levy said he understands pandemic fatigue but calls the throng of young adults at The Wharf “foolish.” “We are seeing the hospitalization numbers starting to come up. Most of these young people will be just fine, but some will not. This is the kind of thing that will probably overwhelm the healthcare system again.”

The Wharf’s ownership announced they would open this weekend with COVID-conscious changes in place. Emi Guerra, co-founder of Breakwater Hospitality Group, which also owns The Wharf Miami, told the Sun Sentinel there had been remodeling to promote social distancing. He also said capacity would be limited and masks would be worn by guests when they were not drinking or eating.

Guerra did not return a call from the Sun Sentinel seeking comment on the Friday night imagery.

Holness said code enforcers had issued The Wharf a citation Friday night, a warning that they had not been following Broward County’s restrictions for bars and restaurants.

Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, forwarded a photo sent to him of the crowded bar to his fellow mayors in cities throughout Broward County. “we MUST enforce the current restrictions on distancing and capacity. If this is not a violation of the current Broward EO, then we have lost all capacity to prevent Broward and South Florida from becoming a hot spot and heaven help us ....,” Ryan wrote.

Broward political leaders are closely watching the pandemic worsening in their county and state. In Florida, new cases of the virus for the week are up 49% compared to a week ago, with 8,410 new cases reported Saturday.

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has declared that local officials can require face masks, but can’t enforce them. However, Holness said the county can enforce that businesses follow restrictions on capacity.

The message that the virus is serious is not getting through to residents, Holness said: “Simple common-sense things will save a lot of people’s lives.”

Sun Sentinel reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at 954-304-5908 or cgoodman@sunsentinel.com

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