Alerts and Updates

Mix of Statewide Emergency Rules and Local Advisories Dominate Florida's Reaction to COVID-19

March 24, 2020

Governor Ron DeSantis has issued a number of executive orders in response to the COVID-19 health emergency.

Florida is noticeably absent from the list of high-density states that have implemented stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (including New York, California, Illinois and others). Still, the state and localities have issued a number of orders and advisories aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, summarized below. In addition, the state has relaxed a number of specific business restrictions in an effort to both encourage adherence to limitations on business operations and to counteract the detrimental economic effects of business closings.

State of Florida

Governor Ron DeSantis has issued a number of executive orders in response to the COVID-19 health emergency. The first, Executive Order No. 20-51, issued on March 1, 2020, directed:

  • Florida’s surgeon general to, among other things, declare a public health emergency and to follow CDC guidelines;
  • Florida Department of Health (FDOH) to actively monitor individuals meeting the CDC’s definition of a “Person Under Investigation” for a period of 14 days (or until the person tests negative for COVID-19).

The order also contained other directives related to ensuring public education and prevention.

Since that time, Governor DeSantis has taken a number of additional steps via executive order, including:

  • Declaring a state of emergency in Florida (E.O. No. 20-52);
  • Ordering that licensed bars that derive more than 50 percent of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages for 30 days (from March 17, 2020) (E.C. No. 20-68);
  • Ordering that people visiting public beaches in Florida limit their gatherings to no more than 10 persons and be distanced from one another by 6 feet (E.O. No. 20-68);
  • Ordering that restaurants limit their occupancy to 50 percent of their current building occupancy and ensure that parties are limited to no more than 10 persons and that groups of patrons be separated by a minimum of 6 feet (E.O. No. 20-68);
  • Ordering that licensed alcohol vendors suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages by drink or in sealed containers for consumption on the premises; ordering that restaurants and bars suspend on-premises food consumption for customers; and ordering the closure of gyms and fitness centers in Florida (with certain exceptions) (E.O. No. 20-71); and
  • Ordering that persons arriving in Florida through airports and originating from areas outside Florida “with substantial community spread” (including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) isolate or quarantine for 14 days (or the duration of the person’s stay in Florida, if shorter) and providing that violation of the isolation or quarantine order is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable by jail time and/or a fine (E.O. No. 20-80).

In addition, in Executive Order No. 20-71, Governor DeSantis suspended—for food establishments complying with Executive Order No. 20-68—the prohibition on the sale of alcohol for delivery, takeout or consumption off-premises (subject to certain conditions). The lifting of this restriction serves both to encourage adherence to the restrictions on sale of food or alcohol for on-premises consumption and to counteract the resulting loss of revenue.

Miami-Dade County

On March 17, 2020, Miami-Dade County ordered that all restaurants, bars, taverns, pubs, nightclubs, banquet halls, cocktail lounges, cabarets, breweries, cafeterias and any other alcohol and/or food service business establishment located in the unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade County shut down on-premises service of customers. The order did not apply to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and convenience stores (except to the extent that such establishments provide alcohol and/or food service with seating for more than eight people). The order also required that movie theaters, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, gyms and fitness studios (with certain exceptions) shut down.

Two days later, on March 19, 2020, the Miami-Dade County mayor ordered the closure of all nonessential retail and commercial establishments. The order (as amended numerous times) identifies a number of types of businesses (i.e., essential retail and commercial businesses) that may remain open, including:

  • Healthcare providers;
  • Grocery stores, farmers market, produce stands, etc.;
  • Gas stations and auto-supply, auto-repair and related facilities;
  • Banks and related financial institutions;
  • Professional services, such as legal or accounting firms, when necessary to assist in complying with legally mandated activities;
  • Hardware stores;
  • Landscape and pool care businesses;
  • Veterinarians and pet boarding facilities;
  • Mortuaries, funeral homes and cemeteries;
  • Firearm and ammunition supply stores; and
  • A number of others.

Palm Beach and Broward Counties

On March 20, 2020, at the request of Palm Beach and Broward counties (which, along with Miami-Dade County, comprise virtually all of the South Florida region), Governor DeSantis ordered that all restaurants, bars, taverns, pubs, nightclubs, banquet halls, cocktail lounges, cabarets, breweries, cafeterias and any other alcohol and/or food service business establishment located in the unincorporated areas of Palm Beach County and Broward County, with seating for more than 10 people, close on-premises service of customers.

City of Miami Beach

On March 23, 2020, the city of Miami Beach issued a stay-at-home order, following in the footsteps of other cities and states around the country.

City of Boca Raton

On March 24, 2020, the city manager of Boca Raton (in Palm Beach County) ordered that all nonessential retail and commercial businesses close, except as necessary to perform minimum basic operations (including to maintain inventory, preserve equipment, ensure security, etc.). Businesses deemed essential—and allowed to continue operating—include a range of service providers and retailers, many of which were included in the list from Miami-Dade County in its March 19 order, discussed above, including grocery stores, gas stations, banks, legal and accounting firms and others.

Courts

Courts in Florida have remained open to varying degrees. While the Florida Supreme Court has ordered that all circuit and county courts continue to perform essential court proceedings (such as criminal arraignments, bail hearings and hearings on motions for temporary injunctions for an individual’s safety), many judicial circuits, county courts and individual judges around the state have issued their own orders, modifying court procedures in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. For instance, some courts have postponed nonemergency hearings and jury trials and suspended the requirement to appear for jury duty; others have required that all hearings take place telephonically.

About Duane Morris

Duane Morris has created a COVID-19 Strategy Team to help organizations plan, respond to and address this fast-moving situation. Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information. Prior Alerts on the topic are available on the team’s webpage.

For Further Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Harvey W. Gurland, Jr., Justin M. L. Stern, any of the attorneys in our Miami or Boca Raton offices, any member of the COVID-19 Strategy Team or the attorney at the firm with whom you are in regular contact.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.