Florida Bar Shuts Down After Hundreds Of Patrons Gather Without Masks Or Social Distancing


Monday, November 23rd 2020, 1:04 pm
By: CBS News


FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida -

A popular outdoor bar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has shut down after hundreds of patrons gathered there over the weekend. Photos and videos taken at The Wharf on Friday and Saturday show maskless patrons standing close together, violating Broward County's coronavirus safety guidance. 

After the bar attracted hundreds of guests, it was shut down by county officials by 11 p.m. on Saturday, Broward Mayor Steve Geller told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The Wharf was set to be shut down for at least 24 hours, but management announced on Twitter Sunday that it would stay closed temporarily. 

"Unfortunately, due to the statewide spike in cases and local regulations, we will be temporarily shutting down," the tweet read. "We'll reopen when we're able to provide the proper experience for you at our beautiful outdoor venue. Stay Safe & Stay tuned!"

Broward County's emergency guidance requires people to wear a facial covering in public and urges everyone to practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet from other people, avoiding groups and crowded places.

"Residents are encouraged to patronize local businesses that adhere to the guidelines, while continuing to observe responsible personal hygiene, social distancing and the business' requirements for reopening," the county's guidance reads.

Geller told the Sun Sentinel that if an establishment is not requiring patrons to wear masks, "they're leaving us no option other than to shut them down." 

"Our goal is not to shut down businesses," he continued. "It's to get compliance. If we have to shut down businesses that are intentionally violating our laws, maybe that will send a message. They have to obey our orders for the safety of the public." CBS News has reached out to Geller and is awaiting response. 

Broward County also has a Business Complaint Tracker to record which businesses are following the guidelines. A total of 2,139 warnings and citations have been issued to local businesses and the majority of the violations were for not following sanitation requirements. 

Emilio "Emi" Guerra, part-owner of the Wharf, told the Sun Sentinel that county code officers visited the establishment three times on Saturday — at 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. — citing the bar for violating the guidelines. Video from Jay Brown, who told CBS News he walked by the Wharf around 6:30 on Saturday night, shows the place still packed with patrons. 

Mike Ryan, mayor of nearby Sunrise, said a photo of the packed Wharf was sent to him on Friday and he shared it with fellow mayors in the county. 

"Someone sent me this photo from a place in Broward — last night," Ryan wrote in the email to his colleagues, which he shared with CBS News.

"With Air and Sea Show, college students back, and great weather, we MUST enforce the current restrictions on distancing and capacity. If this is not a violation of the current Broward [Emergency Order], then we have lost all capacity to prevent Broward and South Florida from becoming a hot spot and heaven help us," he wrote. 

In an email to CBS News, Ryan said that during this surge in COVID-19 illnesses, "we need businesses and patrons to act responsibly to protect workers, the community and the economy." 

"In Florida, we can take advantage of dining and gathering outside, but we all must still follow recommendations on distancing and masks," he continued. "Businesses that refuse or are unable to enforce the local mandates will be fined and possibly closed So, if we want to help protect our businesses and jobs, we need everyone to please follow the recommended mitigation strategies."

Broward County has had some of the highest numbers in the country, with 101,059 confirmed cases and 1,626 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. 

The state of Florida has reported at least 938,414 cases and 17,991 deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health. There were 6,435 new cases confirmed in the state on November 21, and 765 of those were in Broward County. 

Many states have seen a recent increase in daily cases and positivity rates, prompting officials to enforce stricter guidelines and urge Americans not to gather in large groups or with people outside their households, even with family members during the upcoming holidays.