Palm Beach County plans to punish businesses that violate emergency orders regarding the coronavirus and social distancing, officials said on Friday.
Mayor Dave Kerner announced the formation of the COVID Education and Compliance Team, which is comprised of local law enforcement agencies, the Florida Department of Health, code enforcement, and other entities.
“There are bad actors in this community,” said Mayor Kerner.
Palm Beach County is currently under Phase One of Florida’s reopening plan, which allows restaurants and retail shops to operate at 50 percent capacity. However, movie theaters and bars must remain closed.
“We will utilize the full force of the law,” Kerner said. “Notices to appear, regulatory restrictions, pulling relevant licenses, and in the most rare circumstances, criminal prosecution.”
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Referring to it as a “proactive effort,” the mayor explained that the team will conduct random spot inspections on businesses throughout the county.
“They’re gonna do it across city boundaries and municipal boundaries, and no one is ever gonna know when they’re coming and at what time,” he said.
Dr. Alina Alonso, the county’s health director, added that Palm Beach County was averaging 68 cases of the virus per day before certain businesses began reopening May 11.
She said that number jumped to an average of 220 cases per day as of June 1.
“As we opened and people started feeling better, we started loosening up and everybody felt a little better. Then the virus had more people to attack and make positive. That is what’s going on,” added Alonso.
She explained that the best defenses against the “silent infection” continue to be social distancing, wearing face coverings in public, washing hands and surfaces frequently, and keeping your hands away from your face.
Dr. Alonso also addressed businesses, saying, “You agreed to do certain things, and some of those certain things were social distancing and keeping your patrons, and most importantly, your employees safe.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis also said on Saturday that the state plans to start cracking down on restaurants and bars that do not follow guidelines limiting the number of people inside the establishments.
Still, he stood by his decision not to mandate that people throughout the state wear masks.
DeSantis defended his decision to reopen Florida’s economy, explaining that many of the new cases were among young people who are more likely asymptomatic and will therefore not require extensive health care services.
Still, the governor acknowledged that the positive test rate was increasing due to community spread.
This week Florida has seen a large number of new cases from those 18 to 35. More information here – https://t.co/hHfXT9qw49 pic.twitter.com/E6ouJjsAKB
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) June 20, 2020
“Certainly a cause for concern,” DeSantis said of the rising numbers of cases. “But our cases are shifting in a radical direction younger.”
DeSantis said that while “Florida has been very reasonable” he said there had also been reports of “people just jam packed” in some restaurants and bars, which is in violation of guidelines limiting the numbers of customers inside establishments.
“There are reasons why it was done that way,” DeSantis said. “It wasn’t just pulled out of a hat. … When those very reasonable guidelines are disobeyed, well it ends up defeating some of the purpose of what we are trying to accomplish.”
Therefore, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates bars and restaurants and hair salons, will visit establishments to ensure they are adhering to the guidelines.
Restaurants outside of South Florida are allowed to operate at full capacity outside, but at only 50 percent of capacity inside. Bars are also allowed to operate at 50 percent.
In Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, which have been hit hard by the virus, restaurants can only operate at 50 percent capacity overall.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health on Saturday issued a new public health advisory that urged people to wear masks if they are unable to maintain social distancing and urged people to refrain from being in crowds of more than 50 people.
According to the Florida Department of Health, as of Sunday:
Palm Beach County: 10,754 cases
-Men: 5,306; Women: 5,295
-248 new reported cases since Saturday
-0 new reported deaths since Saturday
Broward County: 10,837 cases
-Men: 5,403, Women: 5,471
-318 new reported cases since Saturday
-3 new reported deaths since Saturday
Miami-Dade County: 25,790 cases
-Men: 12,719, Women: 12,577
-710 new reported cases since Saturday
-10 new reported deaths since Saturday
Testing in Florida:
-Total Tests: 1,600,335
-Overall Percentage of Positive Cases: 6.1%