By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – To fight the surging growth of COVID-19 cases and rampant spread of the virus since June, Palm Beach County issued an executive order coming into effect Thursday, July 16th at 12:01 AM, which prohibits food or alcohol sales after 11PM in an effort to keep hospitals from being overrun.
The Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) met yesterday, Tuesday, July 14th, and received an update from Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health-Palm Beach County and Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson on local COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Dr. Alonso voiced concern that too many late night gatherings and parties were happening without social distancing or masks, and inebriated virus-carriers were passing the disease around without concern. This includes reports of bars and clubs operating illegally in the county.
County Administrator Verdenia Baker announced a pending executive order that would prohibit the sale of food and alcohol in restaurants from 11PM to 5AM. Baker also said, a law is in the works that would increase fines for businesses that aren’t following restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus.
“We have to have the hammer that hurts,” Baker said, without confirming how high the fines might be. The $500 fine now in place isn’t enough to encourage some businesses to follow the rules, she said.
Since the law can’t be passed until August, she said the county will continue to work with state regulators to yank liquor licenses of bars and restaurants that flout the rules.
Currently the COVID Education Compliance Team (CECT) is proactively conducting spot inspections of local businesses and public venues, noting where masks are not being worn or social distancing is not being consistently practiced.
The new executive order states that no establishment permitted to serve alcohol or food for on-site consumption, whether indoor or outdoor, shall serve between the hours of 11PM and 5AM. Delivery, drive-through, pick-up, or take-out services are permitted for off-site consumption.
Additionally, the following businesses and venues, to the extent they have been authorized to legally operate, shall be closed between the hours of 11PM and 5AM: amusement parks, hookah and smoking bars and lounges; kava, kratom and similar bars and lounges; banquet halls; and ballrooms.
Annie Blake, one of the co-founders of the popular Death or Glory Bar in Delray Beach said this morning, “We have been closing at around 11PM anyway, because we cannot open our bar seating or sell alcohol unless our kitchen is open.”
Explaining, “This has had a major impact on our business. Restaurants rely on our alcohol sales. Increased mandates are certainly never positive for commerce as a whole, but on the heels of everything else this year, I’d consider this restriction minor.”
However she adds, “I am not sure what level of tracing is happening here in Florida, but I think our challenge is that we aren’t really sure where the spike in numbers is coming from. Because we opened everything initially at once it’s difficult to tell if it’s dining, beaches, protest, barbeques, or the weeks where masks were optional.”
“I personally don’t feel that 11PM is going to make a huge impact, given that bars/nightclubs aren’t open.” she says. “The curfew feels a bit arbitrary. Ultimately we need to figure out how we can operate safely and isolate the reason for the giant increase in cases.”
Dr. Alonso also updated the commission that in a one-week period (July 5th to July 12th), Palm Beach County reported 1,166 new positive cases. In 700 of those cases, it took nine days to get test results from commercial labs. “That makes all the time and money we’re spending on contact tracing useless,” Dr. Alonso said.
Palm Beach County has reported a total of 22,279 COVID-19 cases with 624 deaths. The county’s positivity rate is 11.52 percent. Approximately 12.5 percent of county residents (188,104) have been tested at 75 testing sites countywide.
In Palm Beach County there are currently 652 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and there are 117 ICU beds available representing 28 percent of the total.
Of the 24,005 COVID-19 positive cases now in Palm Beach County, 2,927 (fourteen percent) were admitted to the emergency room. Of those, 2,115 (ten percent) were admitted into the hospital and 638 (2.9 percent) died.
For perspective, Palm Beach County has 1.497 million residents, and from 2013 to 2018 the average deaths per year in the county were between 13,500 and 15,000, with the leading causes being heart disease, cancer and strokes.
Palm Beach County’s Interactive Testing Map has over seventy testing sites, and can help residents find the closest private or community based testing location for them. For more information or to contact the COVID Education Compliance Team, please call 561-24COVID (561-242-6843) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.