MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, including bars and clubs on Friday.

The governor said he would also stop cities and counties from collecting fines on people who don’t wear face masks, virtually nullifying local mask ordinances.

“We are today moving into initially called phase three. What that will mean for the restaurants, there will not be limitations,” said DeSantis.

“It’s not based on science,” FIU Infectious Diseases Expert Dr. Aileen Marty told CBS News. “It’s the kind of politics that’s going to backfire.”

 Read the governor’s executive order

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez office said the curfew is still in place. They said the “attorneys are looped in.”

On Friday afternoon, Mayor Gimenez said:

“My staff and I are consulting with the County Attorney’s Office regarding the enforcement of the mask mandate at businesses. We want to ensure compliance with the state order, while also continuing to act in the best interests of our community.”

“He’s just not paying attention to the science. His advisors are not scientists. He’s putting the people of Florida at risk.” Congresswoman Donna Shalala said Friday.

She’s reacted to the governor’s move that surprised leaders statewide.

“The percentage of people testing positive is higher now in both Miami-Dade and Broward than it was at the time that we reopened in the early summer,” FIU Epidemiologist Dr. Mary Jo Trepka said.

The office of the mayor said the governor’s emergency order means the following for Miami-Dade County:

1) The state will be in Phase 3 and all state restrictions related to COVID-19 are lifted. However, this does not preclude the County from having its own rules, as approved by the state.
2) All businesses may reopen, but the County can still impose guidelines and protocols.
3) All restaurants, regardless of the size of their interior spaces, will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
4) Civil citations issued for violation of the mandatory mask order are suspended.

“Just as an act of executive grace, all outstanding fines, and penalties that have been applied against individuals have been suspended,” said DeSantis.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber believes the governor is trying to please the president.

“My county has had the second most number of COVID infections in the country. So, we are a hot spot. The truth is, this is pretty obvious this was a political decision,” he said.

In Broward, Mayor Dale Holness office said attorneys are waiting on clarity and will need to see the exact executive order.

As far as schools, Broward Schools said, “The Governor’s announcement does not impact BCPS as the District has already initiated the reopening process by entering into Phase 2.”

The governor’s order doesn’t prevent businesses from requiring customers to wear masks. Nor can Florida order local governments to reimburse fines that have already been collected.

The governor has refused throughout the pandemic to issue a statewide mask mandate, deferring to local officials.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber reacts to the governor’s emergency order:

The governor’s office estimated that nearly $2 million in fines have been imposed statewide on people and businesses for violations of local health orders, including for breaking curfews or social distancing rules.

The number is based on counties and cities that responded to DeSantis’ Sept. 4 demand that local officials provide information about “all actions” county governments, city commissions or other boards or commissions have taken regarding the virus. Not all cities or counties have responded.

Governor DeSantis is moving to fully open the state, including bars and restaurants, allowing for full capacity. And if it’s less than that, local leaders will have to justify it.

“We’re also saying in the state of Florida that everybody has the opportunity and the right to work. Every business has the right to operate. If some of the locals may be able to do reasonable regulations, but you can’t just say no. You can’t say no after 6 months and have people just twisting in the wind,” said DeSantis.

The governor is also doing away with fines for lack of social distancing and masks.

“Just as an act of executive grace, all outstanding fines, and penalties that have been applied against individuals have been suspended,” said DeSantis.

“For the past two weeks or more, we’ve seen a positivity rate of less than 5 percent,” said Broward Mayor Dale Holness.

At practically the same time the governor made his announcement, Mayor Holness announced the easing of some regulations.

“Restaurant counters can now be used for seating with the restriction that they’re not able to serve alcohol at those counties,” Holness said.

It also allows live entertainment at restaurants and for groups of no more than ten to take part in sports on the beach and in parks.

“There are many hotels that have large banquet rooms such as this that have been vacant of the last 6 months,” said Michael Lamey at Marriott Harbor Beach.

For hotels and banquet halls, they’re now allowed to have social gatherings again for groups of 100 or less at 50% capacity. That includes weddings, celebrations, and galas. It comes with a lot of restrictions and it will operate similar to a restaurant.

“There won’t be any walk-up bars, no self-service buffets, no passed Hors d’oeuvres. All food and beverage will be served to the guest at their table,” said Lamey.

DeSantis said the move into the third phase of his economic-recovery efforts is designed to ensure “business certainty.”

He said it shouldn’t be that much of a change outside of restaurants, bars and craft breweries, which have been limited to 50 percent indoor occupancy statewide, and Southeast Florida, which has lagged behind the rest of the state in reopening because of its large number of COVID-19 cases.

Pointing to improved knowledge of the virus, DeSantis said during a news conference with a group of restaurant owners in St. Petersburg that the state is prepared if cases increase.

“If we see an increase, we’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said. “But I think if you look at our hospital capacity, if you look at what we did to marshal the latest medications, if you look at what we’ve done to help with all the (personal protection equipment) and the testing and everything, you know, we have the tools in place that we need.”

The virus has claimed nearly 14,000 Floridians since March, with an average of 99 deaths a day reported by the state Department of Health over the past seven days. The state has averaged more than 100 deaths a day since mid-July.

The Florida chapter of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a left-leaning group, issued a news release that said more testing is needed to bring the semblance of normalcy DeSantis craves.

“Some of the top economists across the country have told Gov. DeSantis in no uncertain terms that the economy will not recover until he gets the virus under control,” the group said. “Yet, the governor is preventing potentially life-saving restrictions while COVID-19 cases are still well above the levels that health professionals deem safe for reopening. Prohibiting restrictions, especially in high-risk settings for spreading the virus-like indoor dining, will prolong economic damage and risk lives unnecessarily.”

But the restaurant industry quickly supported the changes.

“You just created a lot more jobs,” Dannette Lynch of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Suncoast Chapter told DeSantis.

The move to the third phase of DeSantis’ reopening efforts came a week after the state released a report showing that Florida had a 7.4 percent unemployment rate in August, reflecting an estimated 753,000 Floridians out of work, many in the leisure and travel industries.

State economists on Friday also released a report that gave a somewhat-mixed picture of state tax collections — but made clear that revenues are down from pre-pandemic levels.

Economists said general-revenue collections for August came in $177.3 million above a recent projection. But collections were $83.1 million below a projection that had been issued before Florida’s economy was hit by COVID-19.

“Given the nature of the fiscal shock wrought by the pandemic, comparisons to the same month in the prior year produce the most meaningful metrics,” the report from the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research said. “In this respect, overall collections in August 2020 are down 4.6 percent from August 2019.”

Businesses were forced to shut down or dramatically scale back in March and April to try to prevent spread of the virus. DeSantis began the first phase of reopening in May and moved into the second phase in June.

On Thursday, after a health-care event in Tallahassee, DeSantis questioned the effectiveness of closing restaurants in stopping or slowing the spread of the virus.

The governor’s order requires that if local governments want to order restaurants to operate at less than 50 percent indoor occupancy, officials must justify the health and economic reasons behind the restrictions.

(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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