Bars close, cities debate masks as Florida virus cases rise

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A popular bar where dozens of workers and patrons have contracted the coronavirus became Florida’s first to have its liquor license suspended since bars and pubs reopened earlier this month, after a state inspector found patrons weren’t socially distancing and following other restrictions.

At least 13 employees and 28 patrons have tested positive for COVID-19 at the The Knight’s Pub, a bar popular with students from nearby University of Central Florida, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation said late Monday in a statement.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday warned that bars would be getting visits from inspectors with the state licensing office — “the grim reaper” — and, after a warning, those not following social distancing and other guidelines meant to stop the virus’ spread would lose their liquor licenses.

“The guidelines are in place for a reason. We want environments that aren’t going to be a huge risk of transmissions,” DeSantis said at a news conference at a hospital in Orlando. “If you go in, and it’s Dance Party USA, dancing up to the rafters, that’s not cut-and-dry. There’s no tolerance for that.”

But the number of cases linked to the bar could be much higher. Dr. Raul Pino, a state health officer in Orlando, said Monday, without naming the establishment, that a bar near the University of Central Florida campus had been linked to 152 coronavirus cases.

The coronavirus-related license suspension comes as Florida’s caseload surpassed the 100,000-person mark this week and scores of bars and restaurants across Florida have voluntarily closed for a short time because patrons or workers came down with the virus.

Florida had 103,503 cases on Tuesday, a daily jump of 3,286 cases. Florida also reported 3,238 deaths, an increase of 64 from the previous day. The newly announced cases ranged from the top federal prosecutor in Tallahassee to 11 athletes on different teams at the University of Florida.

Last week, several municipalities, including Tampa, Orange County, home to Orlando, and the Florida Keys, required that everyone wear face masks in public. Several other municipalities are weighing the question. St. Petersburg’s mayor signed an order effective Tuesday evening making masks mandatory in enclosed businesses, and mayors in Miami-Dade cities also issued similar rules. Lakeland officials rejected the requirement as too difficult to enforce, and Palm Beach County was close to passing one on Tuesday.

Universal and SeaWorld, both in Orlando, as well as Busch Gardens and Adventure Island in Tampa, have opened back up in recent weeks. Walt Disney World is set to reopen next month after being closed since mid-March, but some Disney World workers are petitioning the theme park resort to delay its opening. A moveon.org petition has garnered more than 5,000 signatures from workers and their family members. Disney World has a workforce of 77,000 employees.

“With the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases in Florida, the plan to reopen theme parks should be re-evaluated,” the petition said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or be fatal.