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Beaches, commercial gyms and hotels reopen Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale

On Tuesday, Fort Lauderdale will take a major step to return to a level of normal life. We are reopening our beaches, hotels and commercial gyms with measures in place to protect public health. 

In cooperation with other mayors and Broward County, we were able to move forward with these openings. With the rate of infection from COVID-19 on a steep decline, it was time that we begin to restore the amenities and businesses that keep our economy running and contribute to the great quality of life we have so long enjoyed in South Florida. 

Closing the beaches some nine weeks ago was a difficult but necessary decision as the COVID virus began its spread locally. We acted quickly and decisively to curtail widespread infection during the annual Spring Break season. Now, we act based on the medical evidence at hand. 

These openings come with rules established by Broward County.

The county has permitted beaches to be open between sunrise and sunset for passive recreation only -- swimming, walking, jogging, surfing, kayaking and paddle-boarding. 

Further rules set by the county are the following: Activities including picnicking, sunbathing, sitting or lying on the beach are not allowed. Group or organized sports like volleyball, umbrellas, canopies, chairs, loungers and coolers are also not allowed, and there can be no group gatherings of more than 10 people. Beachgoers must maintain six feet of separation except between members of the same household or group.

The opening of commercial gyms has been an oddly controversial matter. 

The city of Fort Lauderdale attempted to allow their opening a week ago based on an executive order issued by Gov. DeSantis. However, the county ruled they could not open and even threatened fines and arrest for any violation. 

The regulations that the county has now set for gyms virtually mirror those that the city developed with one exception. The spacing between exercise equipment or participants in a fitness class must be 10 feet rather than the six-foot rule that the city attempted to institute.

The important thing is that gyms can open. 

Exercise and maintaining good health are important components in the fight against COVID-19. But no one wants gyms become a breeding ground for the virus either, and thus, there will be some common-sense standards to prevent that.

Gyms cannot exceed 50 percent of their capacity. Employees are required 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.

Equipment must be sanitized after each us. Showers must be closed except for use before entering a pool. Hand sanitizer must be provided at all entrances, and all patrons and employees must sanitize upon entrance. 

Dance, martial arts, yoga, spinning and personal training studios may also reopen.

Our hospitality industry is vital to our economy, so I’m glad that the county has allowed hotels to open for general use and to begin taking reservations. Again, there will be some prudent standards to protect public health. 

Staff is required to wear facial coverings and gloves for all customer-facing activities. Guests must wear facial coverings in all common areas. Ballrooms and other special function spaces remain closed. Proprietors are encouraged to post on their website, blog or social media the steps they are taking to keep their guests safe.

Many are asking if vacation rentals may also resume. The answer is no. The county has decided to continue limiting their use to only a handful of special categories such as individuals displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic and health workers responding to COVID-19. 

There have been some other developments regarding reopening Fort Lauderdale. 

  • The city has resumed processing permits for interior construction. Contractors will be required to certify their compliance with health safety guidelines, including minimizing contact with building occupants, wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing. 
  • Residential and commercial real estate services may resume operating. The decision comes based on a newly released advisory from the Department of Homeland Security on essential workers.
  • The city will is again closing this weekend the eastern northbound lane of A1A from Las Olas Boulevard north to Sunrise Boulevard. This allows more social distancing between pedestrians. The closure will run through Memorial Day. 
  • The city is creating additional outdoor space for restaurants so they can spread out customers more broadly. Northeast 33rd Street will close nightly between A1A and Northeast 33rd Avenue. On Las Olas Boulevard, the two parking lanes will be closed until 7 a.m. Tuesday. Going forward, the lanes will be closed from 7 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Monday.
  • The city’s Department of Sustainable Development has reopened. Customers are allowed to conduct business in the 700 NW 19 Ave. building Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. A check-in process has been established in the DSD parking that requires customers to remain in their vehicles and provide staff with their name and phone number. Each customer receives a call when it is their turn to enter the building. Prior to entering, customers are required to have their temperature taken, clean their hands, have any paperwork disinfected, and be wearing a facial covering.

In closing, I wish everyone a happy and safe Memorial Day. Please take a moment Monday to remember those who lost their lives in service of our great country. 

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