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Palm Beach County Poised For Phase 2 Of Reopening

Mayor Kerner speaking at news conference
Palm Beach County
The Florida Channel
Mayor Dave Kerner, at a news conference Friday, said state officials want the county to open as efficiently as possible, but safety remains a priority.

Palm Beach County on Tuesday will become the 65th of the state’s 67 counties to reach Gov. Ron DeSantis’ second phase of economic reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Palm Beach County’s staggered reopening plan includes approval from the governor for up to a one-week delay, from Sept. 14 to Sept. 21, in reopening public school campuses, an idea that must still go before the school board, county Mayor Dave Kerner said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

The county approach provides “aspirational goals” in getting the vast majority of businesses in the county to operate at some level, Kerner said.

“They (state officials) want to see us open up as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Kerner said. “But their focus, like ours, remains on safety first. We've demonstrated before that we can open up a large urban county in a safe and measured approach. And they gave us that discretion to do that in phase two. And so that discretion will be utilized.”

Kerner met privately Thursday with DeSantis in Jacksonville, where he also delivered a letter from the county commission on its reopening plans.

“We had a very long discussion, a very detailed and substantive discussion related to COVID-19 and how this county has been able to deal with the strong support of state government,” Kerner said.

DeSantis on Friday released an executive order moving Palm Beach County into the second phase. DeSantis, during an appearance Thursday in St. Petersburg, briefly said the approval had been given for Palm Beach County.

After much of the economy was shut down in April to try to prevent the spread of the virus, DeSantis began the first phase of reopening in early May. Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which have been hit hardest by the pandemic, were initially delayed from the first phase.

The rest of the state moved into the second phase of reopening in June, but Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties remained in Phase 1, which limited operations and occupancy at many businesses.

The second phase of reopening, under DeSantis’ June direction, allowed entertainment venues, massage parlors, tattoo shops and movie theaters to partially reopen, while occupancy in restaurants was expanded.

Under Palm Beach County’s approach, retail stores, museums, libraries, personal services not already open, gyms and fitness centers can operate at full capacity on Tuesday.

Restaurants will be able to operate at full outdoor capacity with indoor service at up to 50 percent capacity. Patrons can eat at restaurant bars. Also, restaurants can operate half of their pre-existing billiards tables.

Movie theaters, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity. Playhouses are limited to 33 percent capacity, and ice rinks can have no more than 25 skaters at a time, each maintaining six feet of separation.

Auditoriums, bingo parlors, comedy clubs and concert houses will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity starting Oct. 19.

The county’s goal is to boost capacity at the different indoor venues on Nov. 2.

Bars will remain closed. The state continues to restrict the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption at bars and craft breweries that don’t sell food.

Kerner said Palm Beach County has had a 3.6 percent positive COVID-19 test rate over the past few days.

The state Department of Health on Friday announced 3,198 new COVID-19 cases in the state and 100 more deaths. The virus has killed 11,750 Floridians since March.

Jim Turner is a reporter for the News Service of Florida.