Along the Coast: County takes 'modest' steps toward allowing more business openings

By Mary Hladky

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner on Friday asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow more business openings in the county.

Kerner, who announced he had sent a letter to DeSantis during a Friday news conference, said bars located within restaurants should be opened with a 50 percent capacity limit. Stand-alone bars, however, would remain closed.

In addition, massage, tattoo and tanning businesses should open, he said.

Kerner also opened the door to opening movie theaters, concert houses, bowling alleys, auditoriums and arcades, but said the county wants to continue to review and approve their plans to do so before giving them the go-ahead.

DeSantis on June 4 permitted the opening of bars, movie theaters, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, tattoo, massage and tanning parlors in 64 counties, with certain restrictions.

Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties were not included because of their high number of COVID-19 cases, but DeSantis said county officials could ask to be included in his Phase 2 reopening plan.

Kerner described his request as a modest one that did not need to be made by the full county commission. Convening a meeting would have delayed action when still-shuttered businesses are clamoring to be allowed to open and workers are badly in need of jobs, he said.

“I have a huge desire to get people back to work safely and as quickly as possible,” he said.

Kerner said he followed the advice of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw in deciding not to include stand-alone bars in his reopening request. Protests over the police-related death of George Floyd are taking place in areas where many bars are located, and the combination of open bars and protesters could present a public safety issue, he said.

Kerner expected the governor to decide quickly on whether to allow the reopenings, possibly as soon as Monday.

At a June 4  county commission meeting, Kerner said he was willing to take small steps toward relaxing restrictions, but opposed wholesale measures allowed elsewhere in the state.

Commissioners Hal Valeche and Mack Bernard wanted to go even further in lifting restrictions.

Kerner’s move comes as the number of coronavirus cases in the state and county continues to rise.

Health director Dr. Alina Alonso told commissioners on June 2 that the county did not yet meet the threshold for further relaxation of restrictions.

The number of new cases in the county has jumped in the past week, while areas in the Glades and Lake Worth Beach are coronavirus hotspots.

But she also noted that the number of people admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 has dropped and hospitals can absorb more patients because they are at 70 percent of capacity.

As of June 5, Florida’s COVID-19 case total was 61,488, with deaths at 2,745. Palm Beach County had 6,859 cases, with 376 deaths.

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