Florida Moves Forward With COVID-19 Re-Opening Plan

The state of Florida, which is used by WWE and AEW, has moved into phase 3 of re-opening from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced today that he is issuing an executive order to remove all remaining restrictions on businesses that are related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Orlando Sentinel. The executive order takes effect immediately.

Under phase 3, all remaining state-level restrictions on businesses, including bars and restaurants. These businesses are no longer required to operate at less than full capacity. The original re-opening plan capped them at 75%, but that is not the case under this new order.

The order provides a general right to work and to operate a business. Local governments can limit and regulate businesses, but they cannot close them because of concerns related to COVID-19. The order also prohibits local governments from closing businesses or collecting fines associated with pandemic-related mandates, such as mask requirements.

There are two more significant provisions under the order. Local governments will not be able to prevent restaurants from operating at below 50% capacity, and cities & counties will not be able to impose any restrictions without an economic & health justification. While the order prohibits cities & counties from collecting on any outstanding fines they issues during their pandemic response, they are not compelled to refund anyone who has already paid a fine.

"We are today moving into what we initially called phase 3," DeSantis said at a press conference. "And what that'll mean for the restaurants is there will not be limitations from the state of Florida."

He added, "We're also saying in the state of Florida everybody has a right to work. (Local governments) can do reasonable regulations but they can't just say no."

Regarding sports leagues such as WWE and AEW, DeSantis said the order does not affect sports venues and theme parks because there were no current state-imposed restrictions on them, but each business does have the ability to impose their own social distancing and mark requirements.

DeSantis aides also said the order was based partly on the reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases, and deaths. The Sunshine State had 2,815 new cases reported today, along with 162 deaths. This brings the total in Florida, since the pandemic hit in March, to 695,887 coronavirus cases and 13,915 deaths. As of Thursday there were 2,169 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida, down from the peak of more than 9,000 in late July. It was also noted that the average daily case count this week has increased 5% from two weeks ago. Florida also has a positivity rate of 4.29% compared to 1% in New York.

The Governor said that while the coronavirus pandemic is not over, society must continue to function even as citizens take measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

"The fact that you continue to move forward with the economy, it doesn't mean that the virus disappears," DeSantis said. But imposing lockdowns "where society flounders people are out of work, kids aren't in school – that is not going to work. And that's not the way forward for us."

While COVID-19 restrictions have been removed, Florida's current State of Emergency related to the pandemic remains in effect through Tuesday, November 3. DeSantis' aides said the State of Emergency declaration is still important because it gives agencies the flexibility to order and distribute personal protection equipment to hospitals, run state testing sites and coordinate with federal agencies on the pandemic response.

As we've noted at this link, WWE is currently looking at possibly moving away from The ThunderDome at the Amway Center in Orlando, but there's no word yet on where they might be going, if they . Company officials have reportedly looked at possibly running outdoor venues once the Amway Center deal expires at the end of October. We've also reported on the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in WWE at this link, and COVID issues in AEW, at this link.

Stay tuned for updates.