Updating Breaking News from Wednesday: Florida bars, theaters re-open Friday; NBA eyes Orlando as ‘epicenter’ to restart season

The Center Square – Most Florida bars, movie theaters, bowling alleys and theme parks can reopen at 50 percent capacity beginning Friday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement Wednesday during a news conference in Orlando at Universal Parks & Resorts, which is now open to pass holders and will open to the public Friday.

“Amusement parks – we’re here right now – we wanted them to work with their local governments to submit plans,” DeSantis said. “Universal did a great job, had a great plan, and I think as you’ve seen, they’re taking safety very seriously to keep their guests safe.” 

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The governor also hinted he soon would be making a “big announcement” regarding professional sports.

Major League Soccer and its players’ union Wednesday reached an agreement for the league’s 26 teams to play a tournament-style season at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando.

The NBA will present a plan for restarting its suspended season to the league’s board of governors Thursday. Its plan includes 22 teams playing a “playoff season,” also at ESPN's Wide World Of Sports complex, beginning July 31.

“There are discussions to bring some of these sports to Orlando. We support that happening. Sports need to know they can come here, and we are going to roll out the red carpet,” DeSantis said. “Orlando would be a great place” for the NBA to resume its season. “Same thing with baseball. Orlando can be the epicenter of the comeback of professional sports.”

Phase two of DeSantis’ three-part reopening plan does not include Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties. In the state’s other 64 counties, however, movie theaters, bowling alleys, pari-mutuel betting businesses and bars – closed since mid-March – will be allowed to open at 50 percent indoor capacity and full capacity for outdoor seating if local governments give the green light.

“You’re seated to get served. People go, enjoy, have a drink, that’s fine,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want huge crowds piling in.”

Local government officials, under pressure from bar owners who don’t generate more than 50 percent of revenues from food sales, had been lobbying the governor for weeks about allowing them to reopen their doors.

“Those who have been able to operate, have survived up to this point. The owners who were mandated to close are about to lose their businesses,” Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson wrote in a letter delivered to the governor last weekend.

Under phase one of DeSantis’ plan, launched May 4, restaurants and retailers opened at 25 percent capacity in all but the three south Florida counties. On May 18, capacities were expanded to 50 percent statewide, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

DeSantis made the move into phase two despite the Florida Department of Health (DOH) reporting Wednesday that an additional 1,237 people had tested positive for COVID-19, the most since April 4, when 1,304 tested positive.

According to DOH’s COVID-19 dashboard, as of Wednesday afternoon, 58,764 people had tested positive for COVID-19, 10,796 people have been hospitalized and 2,650 people have died, including 37 on Tuesday.

DeSantis said the numbers are skewered by increased testing – more than 1 million tests have been conducted in Florida – and data showing most reported COVID-19 deaths are linked to long-term care patients, nursing home residents and the elderly.

On Sunday, DOH reported 1,230 of the state’s then-death count of 2,451 were residents or staff members of long-term care facilities.

Fifteen-percent of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities have occurred among those 65 years old and younger, DeSantis said, noting more Floridians over 90 years old have died from the disease than those under 65.

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