Florida's Top Business Regulator Calls For 'Surgical' Reopening

Shop owners in rural counties without large reported outbreaks of COVID-19 are ready to reopen under new sanitation and physical distancing guidelines, the state’s top business regulator said Friday.

On the day the state topped 1,000 deaths from the contagious respiratory disease, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears suggested a “surgical” reopening, with businesses following safety guidelines outlined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We need to get these counties open at the very least,” Beshears said during a conference call with the Industry Working Group on Tourism, Construction, Real Estate, Recreation, Retail and Transportation that is part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force. “We feel like we could safely adhere (to) and monitor these guidelines for these industries.”

The working group on Friday focused on the impact of COVID-19 on rural counties and minority-owned businesses and on reopening restaurants, hair salons and cosmetology businesses.

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A stay-at-home order issued by DeSantis is set to expire April 30. Beshears said it could take a couple of weeks for some businesses to reopen, as they need to have capital, bring employees back, train workers in new safety guidelines and restock inventory.

Task force members this weekend will individually submit recommendations about how the state can reopen, while the governor’s office compiles a proposal that will go before the task force’s Executive Committee next week.

Beshears, dividing the state into north, central and south, said counties north of Orange County have had less than 5,000 cases of COVID-19, far below numbers in Southeast Florida.

He suggested the eight counties with the most cases --- Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Lee and Duval --- may require a more “measured” approach to phase businesses back into operation.

“If we can get 85 percent of those back open and running … we can with a surgical approach ease these guys back into it hopefully and find a working way to get everyone back working, but also keep those that are highly vulnerable safe at home, but not punish the rest of us for that,” Beshears said.

Before becoming secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Beshears was a state House member from Jefferson County, east of Tallahassee, and represented a sprawling rural district in North Florida.

Greg Picnic, owner of Livin in The Cut barbershop west of Florida State University in Tallahassee, suggested the state impose guidelines for barber shops and hair salons that exceed the sanitary proposals Florida is putting forward.

Among his suggestions were to temporarily prevent walk-in customers and waiting in lobbies to maintain physical distancing rules and to give shops time to clean between customers. Also, he suggested requiring stylists to have extra sets of clippers, clipper guards and sheers to ensure sets have more time to be cleaned between use. Picnic also suggested the need for government help for people in the industry to stock up on masks and gloves and Barbicide, which is used to clean and disinfect salons and tools.

“That is one of the most important tools that we have here in our barber shops, and we just want to make sure that that is available for us,” Picnic told the working group.

Picnic also said people in the industry plan to eliminate handheld mirrors, which are often handed to clients to check the back of their hair, head rests and facial shaves.

“One of the saddest things is removing the always loved Dum Dum lollipop jars for kids,” Picnic said.

Walter Carpenter, chairman of the National Federation of Independent Business Florida Leadership Council, suggested to Beshears that the state temporarily lift a prohibition on barbers and hair stylists working outside of listed retail location.

Beshears said his department is recommending that barber shops be thoroughly disinfected before reopening; undergo daily cleanings with a hospital grade cleanser; limit the number of people simultaneously allowed inside shops based on space; and post a checklist of daily sanitary practices in a conspicuous place customers can see.

Restaurants would have additional rules, such as training employees on the expectation of increased frequency of handwashing, making hand sanitizer more accessible and not allowing patrons to congregate in bar areas.

“How these private businesses open and operate would dictate how quickly customers return based on their comfort levels,” Beshears said. “If the business performs in a safe, clean and comforting environment while maintaining the health and safety of all of their employees, customers and patrons, these businesses will learn to operate in this new world.”