Monday morning, life in the city of Fort Lauderdale will begin to return to a greater degree of normalcy as we enter the first phase of reopening businesses under strict standards for public health.
Over the weekend, the city expanded the list of businesses that may open. Acting in accordance with an executive order signed Friday by Gov. DeSantis, we are allowing commercial gyms to resume operations in addition to the partial opening of restaurants, retail stores and salons.
Like other businesses, gyms must undertake some major adjustments in order to adapt to a world in which the COVID-19 virus remains a threat.
Gyms cannot exceed 50 percent of their capacity. We are requiring employees to wear face masks and have health checks before they start work each day. Patrons are required to have their temperature checked upon entry and denied access if they have a fever. Machines and equipment stations must be spaced six feet apart and sanitized after each use.
In addition, fitness classes must maintain the six-foot distancing requirement between participants. Showers must be closed. Hand sanitizer must be provided at all entrances, and all patrons and employees must sanitize upon entrance.
These are common-sense standards to help ensure gyms do not become a breeding ground for COVID-19. We want people to feel confident that they can return gyms and the other businesses without concern for infection. But if you don’t feel comfortable, please continue to stay home or limit your trips outside.
Our plans for Monday constitute a cautious and prudent approach to reopening.
For two months, we sheltered at home and closed non-essential businesses and services in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. As we joined the rest of the world in taking necessary emergency measures, there were unfortunate consequences. Local businesses suffered and many residents lost jobs and income.
Our efforts to fight COVID-19 worked. We met the public health measurements to move into Phase 1 of reopening.
The infection rates have steeply declined in our community. We went from a high of 13% of test results being positive during the week of April 11 to under 4% each of the past two weeks. Testing is now widely available, and our hospitals are again operating normally.
We now resume a more normal daily life while still doing what is needed to protect public safety. Be assured that we will closely monitor public health data. If warranted, we will make adjustments to the Phase 1 regulations.
The city’s Phase 1 order allows some other recreational and exercise options in addition to commercial gyms.
The city is allowing gyms and other amenities at multifamily developments to reopen, following earlier action to allow their pools to open. We also are extending the hours of operation of city parks and boat ramps. With many people returning to work, it is important to allow extra time before and after business hours for individuals to partake of recreational activities in our parks.
We fully intend to continue to open more of our city in the coming days and weeks.
Many ask why we did not open beaches to passive recreation as part of these initial steps. There are several critical reasons we delayed even as we know the public yearns to walk and jog along the beach or swim in the ocean.
The most significant problem is that Miami-Dade communities are not opening their beaches at this time. With Memorial Day around the corner, opening our beaches while theirs remain closed would raise serious concerns for public health and safety.
Large crowds from a two-county area would descend on our beach. Police would have difficulty controlling the situation. I don’t know how we could guarantee that social distancing and other public health rules are followed as thousands gather. I fear all our good work reducing infection levels would be for naught.
Please remember what happened on Memorial Day in 2013.
Miami Beach decided that year to crack down on Urban Beach Weekend. Large crowds then came to Fort Lauderdale, and it quickly got out of control as fights broke out. We took the rare step of summoning the help of all available law enforcement officers from throughout the county. Squads of officers in full riot gear had to clear the beach using tear gas.
Thus, a beach reopening before Memorial Day is a risk that the city cannot take. In discussions with other coastal cities in Broward, we plan to reopen soon after the holiday.
Please stay tuned for that announcement. In the meantime, please feel free now to safely visit your favorite restaurant or retail store, get your hair cut or work out at your gym.