Florida's biggest counties move toward fully reopening

MIAMI (AP) — Florida moved closer to fully reopening from its coronavirus restrictions as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that the state's two most-populous counties will loosen some stringent regulations on businesses and set the stage for their schools to resume classroom instruction.

DeSantis said Miami-Dade and Broward counties on Monday will move into Phase 2 of the economic recovery program, the last two in the state to advance to that stage. This will allow those counties' schools to resume on-campus teaching, although that will not happen immediately. Both county school boards will devise plans and set target dates, and parents will be allowed to keep their children home and take classes online.

“It has been a very difficult time for parents,” DeSantis said during a press conference at a Miami science museum. “You are asked to be working to provide for your family while also having to juggle hands on, helping to educate your child. ...The burden falls especially heavy on our working-class parents."

By moving to Phase 2, Broward and Miami-Dade can join the rest of the state in allowing more indoor entertainment centers such as concert halls and theaters to open at 50% capacity with mandatory masks.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said at the press conference that not all venues will reopen immediately as they need to make preparations to do it safely. He said the county still will not permit bars and nightclubs to reopen, unlike most of the state.

“Our community is taking this virus very seriously,” he said.

Broward County said it will announce its plans later Friday.

Restaurants statewide are allowed to operate at 50% capacity. DeSantis said Thursday he plans to loosen that restriction soon. He has given no indication when the state will move into Phase 3, which would remove many remaining strictures.

Florida reported 175 more deaths Friday, bringing its total to 12,661. Over the past week, the state has reported 108 deaths per day — a close second to Texas, which has a rate of about 109. Texas has about 50% more residents. Still, Florida's death rate is falling — in the first half of August, the seven-day average usually exceeded 170 deaths.

Asked Friday whether President Donald Trump ever told him in February that the coronavirus is highly contagious and deadly as he told journalist Bob Woodward, DeSantis replied there was a lot of uncertainty and misunderstanding about the virus then. Without giving any specifics of his conversations with the president, a close ally, the Republican governor said he never participated in any deception about the virus or how easily it spreads.

“No one ever told me, ‘Hey, we are going to say this, but this is contagious,’" DeSantis said.


Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this report.


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