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Florida Travel COVID19 Restrictions Impact LGBTQ Community

On Tuesday, March 17th, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the immediate closing of all bars and nightclubs for thirty days statewide. This decision followed reports of packed bars, even after requests for social distancing has been made.

The announcement came as a blow to bars and restaurants planning St Patrick’s Day celebrations, but as a precaution to prevent the further spread of COVID19, now up to 200 cases statewide.

Beaches, schools, and local governments have also imposed additional restrictions statewide.

LGBTQ Community Affected

With the closing of bars and clubs, cancellation of several PRIDE events, including Miami Beach Pride, Pride of Americas and Tampa Pride, and forced social distancing, LGBTQ people are facing major challenges. For those who do not live in LGBTQ-inclusive spaces, or feel they can’t be themselves at home, depression, anxiety, isolation and financial despair may do more hard than the virus.

Ed Gonzalez, owner of Enigma Bar & Lounge in St Petersburg, shared his feelings with OutCoast.com about the new mandates to close Florida bars and clubs:

“We understand doing whatever necessary to minimize the spread of this virus. If closing down businesses will help, the sooner we get this over with, the better. I think the hardest part for many people is not knowing how long this is going to last. Most live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have the savings to get through a prolonged period without any income. This understandably has them stressed over how they’re going to pay their bills and buy the essentials to survive.

What worries me most is that normally during times of crisis, we gather together as a community and rely on each other for support. We’re not used to being forced into isolation, and this could take a very serious toll on the stress level and mental health of many. My advice to everyone is to regularly call or message your loved ones to make sure they’re alright and let them know you’re there for them. A mere phone conversation can be very comforting!

In regards to my business, my focus is on letting my staff know that we will get through this together and to reach out if they need anything. If our amazing St. Pete community is anything, we are RESILIENT!! We WILL rebound from this stronger than ever!!”

Enigma is a well-known gay bar/club in the St Petersburg area, and a popular place for happy hour, drag shows and non-profit fundraisers.

Florida COVID19 Guidelines

BARS AND RESTAURANTS

All Florida bars and clubs are closed for 30 days.

All Florida restaurants are closed to in-house diners. Many restaurants are offering delivery or carry-out services.

Restaurants are now able to serve alcoholic beverages to go in closed containers, including mixed drinks.

All restaurant employees must be screened for signs of illness.

Social groups limited to under 10 people.

PRIDE CELEBRATIONS & OTHER EVENTS

All PRIDE events postponed or delayed. Visit our calendar of events for an updated schedule.

OTHER CLOSURES

Gyms in the state of Florida are also closed to help contain the spread of coronavirus. The closures will end when the state of emergency is lifted.

K-12 schools closed until at least April 15. University classrooms also are closed, with students transitioning to online classes.

WIFI ACCESS

Charter, owners of SPECTRUM, announced that beginning on Monday it will offer free broadband and wifi access for 60 days to families with K-12 students or college students who do not already have a Spectrum subscription. The company is also waiving its installation fees for new subscribers.

In addition, Charter says it will open its more than half a million wifi hotspots across the country for public use.

TURNPIKE TOLLS

Florida’s Turnpike and other toll roads operated by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise went essentially cashless as of noon Thursday, with no toll operators manning booths.

The Florida Department of Transportation said it wanted to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus and keep toll collectors safe.

Tolls are still required, but they’re being taken electronically via SunPass and toll-by-plate.

BEACHES

After attempts were made to minimize beach crowding by DeSantis, but after spring break crowds flooded beaches over the weekend, many beach cities throughout Florida are taking stricter measures.

Pinellas County Beaches to close for two weeks beginning on March 20, 2020.

Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, two of the most popular beach destinations in the state, issued orders to close their beaches last Sunday.

Public beaches in Tampa are also closed until further notice, city officials said.

Naples announced Wednesday that it would close its beaches until March 30.

As of Friday, March 20th, DeSantis ordered that Broward and Palm Beach County Beaches close through March 31st, along with all movie theatres, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, gymnasiums, and fitness studios.

For beaches remaining open, the Governor continues to evaluate options, but in the meantime, encourages beachgoers to stay in groups of less than 10, per CDC guidelines.

ADDITIONAL ORDINANCES

Many towns throughout Florida are taking their own precautions to reduce viral spread.

In Orlando, city officials imposed a ban of on-site alcohol sales through the end of March.

In Wilton Manors, restaurants, bars and gyms must close at 10 p.m., but restaurants can do takeouts and deliveries of food after 10 p.m. All businesses must have wipes and hand sanitizers available for customers and employees. The town has also capped capacity of any facility that can host gatherings at 50 percent occupancy with a maximum of 50 people, effective through April 18. This restriction includes bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, churches, synagogues and other such facilities.

And in St Petersburg, Florida, restaurants are required to stop serving alcohol after 9:00 PM.

SUPPORT

Services Industry Professionals

Many restaurants are seeing a major decline in business. Service industry employees are calling for the government to pay to keep them afloat. Many restaurant owners are offering food at discounted rates to those in the services industry and to parents at home feeding school-aged children. Support is available to bartenders at https://www.usbgfoundation.org/beap.

Small Business Owners

Florida made new bridge loans available to help small businesses through the crisis. For more information about the loan program, visit https://floridadisasterloan.org.

The Florida Department of Health opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. You can also stay up-to-date on the number of COVID19 cases and preventative guidelines by clicking here.

FREE Wifi Access

Charter, owners of SPECTRUM, announced that beginning on Monday it will offer free broadband and wifi access for 60 days to families with K-12 students or college students who do not already have a Spectrum subscription. The company is also waiving its installation fees for new subscribers.

In addition, Charter says it will open its more than half a million wifi hotspots across the country for public use.


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Written by Rachel Covello

Rachel Covello is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity consultant, and LGBT advocate. She is the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, a Chester County, PA nonprofit organization, and CEO of OUTCOAST, an online marketing and concierge platform marketing the Gulf Coast as an LGBTQ-inclusive place to VISIT, CELEBRATE, and LIVE.

Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA, NGLCC, NLGJA, and Out & Equal.


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