Friday afternoon Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he is lifting all occupancy restrictions on restaurants and other businesses on a statewide level, effective immediately.
DeSantis announced the state is entering Phase 3 of its reopening plan.
"We are probably the most open big state in the country," said DeSantis.
He added that if local governments decide to restrict occupancy, they will have to justify it.
"We're also saying in the state of Florida, everybody has an opportunity to the right to work," DeSantis said.
While cautioning that virus hasn’t disappeared and older and vulnerable populations must be protected, DeSantis said it was nevertheless time to forge ahead.
"In the state of Florida, we are today moving into what we initially called Phase 3. And what that will mean for the restaurants is that there will not be limitations from the state of Florida," the governor said at an event in St. Petersburg.
Florida hit its peak for coronavirus infections and deaths in July, he said. Since then, the positive test rate has declined dramatically and hospitalizations are down more than 70%. Schools and universities across the state have reopened.
"You've seen steady, steady progress going in this direction. We need everyone to be able to go to work. We need people to be able to be in school," DeSantis said.
Moving to Phase 3 -- the final reopening stage for Florida -- means bars, restaurants, gyms, theme parks and salons can operate at full capacity.
People should still avoid crowds, and those over 65 or with underlying health conditions are still urged to practice social distancing.
"What you want to do is have an age specific strategy that really focuses on mitigating exposures and mitigating infections for people that are at the most risk of this," DeSantis said.
The announcement came as health officials reported more than 14,000 people have died from coronavirus complications statewide.
“I would just tell people the fact that you continue to move forward with the economy doesn’t mean the virus disappears,” DeSantis added.
“So people should just understand it’s something that we are going to have to deal with.”
Asked by a reporter what the order means for mask ordinances, which have been made by some local governments, the governor said only that "all outstanding fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals are suspended."
This video replay of the governor's news conference appears courtesy of Fox 4, which is located in Cape Coral: