DeSantis clears Florida for large-scale reopening, blocks local fines

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attends an event with President Donald Trump in September. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday moved Florida into the third phase of its reopening plans, clearing much of the state to return to a pre-pandemic way of life and preempting any attempts by local governments to impose tougher restrictions.

Details: The order, which DeSantis announced during a news conference in St. Petersburg, prohibits municipalities and counties from closing businesses due to the coronavirus. It also bars local ordinances that would limit restaurants to 50 percent capacity. DeSantis said some local restrictions have been extended indefinitely despite efforts by the restaurant industry to keep patrons safe.

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“You can’t just say ‘no‘ after six months and just have people twisting in the wind,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis’ order also suspends localities from collecting fines and fees stemming from ordinances relating to the coronavirus. A survey conducted by the governor’s office showed local governments issued $2 million in citations relating to Covid-19. The order does not force any already-paid fines to be refunded, but pending citations are off the hook.

Key context: Phase 3 is the final step in the reopening plan DeSantis began implementing on May 4. Much of the state will reopen at pre-pandemic levels. DeSantis allowed bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity earlier this month. That restriction is now left up to local governments — as long as they don’t go beyond 50 percent.

More than 13,900 people have died from Covid-19 in Florida since the spring, and 695,887 people have been infected, according to a state Department of Health report. The average rate of new infections over the past seven days was 4.91 percent.

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