Re-Opening Florida: The Step-by-Step Plan for Florida’s Recovery

On April 29, 2020, the eve of the natural expiration of his “Safer at Home Order,” Governor Rick DeSantis announced his “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step.” plan to reopen Florida, which he explained would include three phases in line with the guidelines previously released by the White House. Under the plan, most of Florida would enter “phase one” of the state’s reopening process at 12:01 a.m. on May 4, while continuing the fight against COVID-19.  Notably, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties will not reopen along with the rest of the state due to a higher incidence of COVID-19 infections.  Late in the evening, Governor DeSantis signed and filed Executive Order 20-112 outlining “Phase 1: Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery.”

While only some of the following directives are specifically referenced in EO 20-112, the governor made the following pronouncements:

  • All schools are to remain distance-learning only
  • Visits to senior living facilities are prohibited
  • Elective surgeries may resume
  • Movie theaters will remain closed
  • Bars, gyms and personal services (like hair and nail salons) remain closed
  • Vulnerable individuals are advised to avoid close contact with people outside the home

And with respect to locations other than Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties:

  • Restaurants may offer outdoor seating with six feet between tables and indoor seating at 25% capacity while maintaining CDC social distancing
  • Retail can operate at 25% of indoor capacity while maintaining CDC social distancing

Executive Order 20-112

EO 20-112 formalizes Governor DeSantis’s announcements making clear Florida will take its cues from the CDC1 and OSHA, as well as Florida’s health officials.  The Order contains eight sections:

Section 1: Recovery – consisting of a general statement of working toward recovery.

Section 2: Responsible Individual Activity:          

  1. Allows continuation of workers in the Critical Infrastructure Workforce as previously defined but also allows others to interact outside the home in providing services approved by the State Coordinating Officer. Such interactions should follow CDC and OSHA safety guidelines. Employee screening or use of PPE should continue, “if necessary.”
  2. Further allows “additional services responsibly provided” in counties other than Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.  Those three counties can only provide services and activities from Sections 3 and 4 in consultation with local leadership.
  3. Other than persons working in the Critical Infrastructure Workforce, senior citizens (undefined, but during his press conference Governor DeSantis referenced individuals over the age of 65) and individuals with a significant underlying medical condition (such as chronic lung disease, moderate-to-severe asthma, serious hard conditions, immunocompromised status, cancer, diabetes, severe obesity, renal failure and liver disease) are strongly encouraged to stay at home and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure.
  4. All persons in Florida should:
    • Avoid congregating in “large groups,” to be defined by local jurisdictions as long as the definitions do not allow groups of people greater than 10 in any public space that does not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing.
    • Avoid nonessential travel to places outside Florida with a significant presence of COVID-19.
    • Adhere to guidelines from CDC regarding 14-day isolation following cruises or travel from any international destination and any area with a “significant presence” of COVID-19.
  5. Prior Executive Orders requiring airport screening and isolation of individuals traveling to Florida is generally extended with exceptions for military, emergency, and law enforcement in certain circumstances.

Section 3: Business Restricted by Previous Executive Orders

  1. Bars, pubs and nightclubs deriving more than 50% of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages shall suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption.
  2. Restaurants and food establishes may allow on-premises consumption of food and beverages allowing no more than 25% capacity and requiring social distancing of at least six feet between parties, seating parties of only 10 or fewer and keeping bar counters closed to seating.
  3. Gyms and fitness centers remain closed.
  4. Prohibition on vacation rentals remains in effect.
  5. Department of Business and Professional Regulation “shall utilize its authorities under Florida law” to enforce this order as appropriate.”

Section 4: Other Affected Business Services

  1. For retail establishments:  businesses may open storefronts if they operate at no more than 25% capacity and abide by CDC and OSHA guidelines. 
  2. Museums and libraries may open at no more than 25% of capacity provided local governments allow operation of public museums and libraries and interactive exhibits and child play areas remain closed. 

Section 5: Medical Procedures.

  1. Elective procedures may resume. 
  2. Most medical offices may perform procedures previously prohibited only if the facility:
    • has capacity to convert to surgical and intensive care bed facilities for treatment of COVID-19 patients in surge capacity situation;
    • appropriate PPE is used without seeking any additional federal or state assistance regarding PPE supplies;
    • the facility has not sought any federal state or local government assistance regarding PPE since resuming elective procedures; and
    • the facility has not refused to provide support and engage with long-term care residential providers.

Section 6: Previous EO Extended (regarding local government public meetings)

Section 7: Enforcement

This section provides the entire Order can be enforced under Florida Statute 252.47, making its violation a second degree misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine.

Section 8: Effective Date

Sets the effective date and time for 12:01 a.m. on May 4, 2020.   

Specific Localities

Jacksonville and Northeast Florida

Prior to EO 20-112, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry had already told restaurants, lodging and retail owners to start thinking about how their businesses can follow CDC guidelines when Jacksonville reopens. Mayor Curry anticipated allowing restaurants to open following the six-foot social distancing guideline or to have staff wear gloves and face coverings, giving the impression he believed restaurants would be open at a higher capacity than announced by the governor. Following Governor DeSantis’s announcement, Mayor Curry announced he will provide further guidance on local policies in alignment with Governor DeSantis’s plan. When Mayor Curry releases his guidance, we will provide those updates. 


Over the past several weeks, the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force has met in expectation of Governor DeSantis’s plan to reopen Florida. The task force collectively reviewed guidelines from other states and announced specific guidelines for businesses operating in the Orlando metropolitan area, broken down with a phased approach. Regardless of EO 20-112, Orange County will require at least the following:

Corporate Guidelines—Suggestions:

  • Offer work from home at discretion of employer and as needed
  • Utilize teleconferences when possible
  • Increase cleaning services and additional sanitation services through outside cleaning companies
  • Recommend touchless sanitizer at entry
  • Staff age 65+ are encouraged to stay home

Corporate Guidelines—Mandates:

  • Hand sanitizer at reception, conference areas and desks
  • Hand sanitizer at entry in plain visible sight
  • Phase 1: face coverings for all employees who work in cubicles without dividers
  • Employees to sanitize prior to shift
  • Temperature checks for all staff prior to each shift (temp above 100.4º may not enter)

Hospitality Guidelines—Suggestions

  • Paper disposable menus
  • Encourage takeout / online orders
  • Touchless sanitizer at entry
  • Staff age 65+ encouraged to stay home

Hospitality Guidelines—Mandates

  • Hand sanitizer at every table
  • Hand sanitizer at entry in plain visible sight
  • All employees required to wear face coverings
  • Temperature checks for all staff prior to each shift (temp above 100.4º may not enter)
  • All employees with flu-like symptoms to stay home
  • Doors to be wiped regularly
  • All staff behind counters must wear gloves (except bartenders)
  • Bartenders to sanitize hands after making each drink order
  • Seated tables to be minimum of six feet apart
  • Phased capacity limits

Beauty Guidelines—Suggestions

  • Touchless sanitizer at entry
  • Staff age 65+ encouraged to stay home

Beauty Guidelines—Mandates

  • Sanitize every station after every client
  • Hand sanitizer at entry in plain visible sight
  • All employees required to wear face coverings
  • Temperature checks for all staff before each shift (temp above 100.4º may not enter)
  • All employees with flu-like symptoms to stay home
  • One worker per customer
  • For spas, hand sanitizer in every room and all linens washed after every use

Mall / Retail Guidelines—Suggestions

  • Recommended touchless sanitizer at entry of mall and each store
  • Markers at checkout of stores to ensure people are staying six feet apart
  • Hourly wipe-down of all countertops, railings and door surfaces
  • Staff age 65+ encouraged to stay home

Mall / Retail Guidelines—Mandates

  • All entry doors at mall and store entrances to be propped, manned or automated
  • Hand sanitizer at entry of mall and each store to be in plain visible sight
  • All employees required to wear face coverings
  • Mall employees to regularly wipe down stair rails and door handles
  • For stores, sanitizer at checkout stations
  • All employees required to wear face coverings
  • Temperature checks for all store staff prior to each shift (temp above 100.4º may not enter)
  • All employees in stores with flu-like symptoms to stay home

Childcare / School Guidelines—Suggestions

  • Limit the number of children per classroom
  • Extra sanitizing on all surfaces / toys / beds / floors
  • Monitoring to ensure adequate social distancing between children
  • Recommended touchless sanitizer at entry
  • Staff age 65+ encouraged to stay home

Childcare / School Guidelines—Mandates

  • Hand sanitizer at entry in plain visible sight
  • All employees required to wear face coverings
  • Gloves for all employees
  • Temperature checks for all staff and children prior to each shift (temp above 100.4º may not enter)
  • All employees with flu-like symptoms to stay home
  • Hand sanitizer in every room
  • Children to be dropped off at reception

Theme Parks

The Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force noted, “Theme parks and other venues of that magnitude shall each develop their own specific and unique set of guidelines following the CDC recommendations and using best practices that will protect the life, health, and safety of their employees and guests.They will be permitted to open at their own discretion with their internally determined level of safe capacities throughout the various phases.”Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings agreed and noted large theme parks are like “cities unto themselves” and none of the recommendations from the task force should seem punitive to them.


Prior to the Governor’s announcement, Hillsborough County had assembled an “Emergency Policy Group” to discuss reopening and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced she hoped to work toward reopening some businesses. After the governor’s announcement, Mayor Castor announced her appreciation for the plan and for taking a phased approach to reopening.  Mayor Castor noted, “moving forward, we will continue to focus on social distancing, face coverings and personal responsibility as we reopen non-essential businesses.”  While Mayor Castor opposed it, on Thursday, April 30, Hillsborough County extended its local safer-at-home order, which will then sunset Monday morning when the EO goes into effect. 

Hillsborough County also announced reopening most nature preserves and boat ramps starting Saturday, May 2.  No additional specific guidance more restrictive than the EO is expected for Hillsborough County.

South Florida

Miami-Dade County

On April 20, 2020, the Miami-Dade “Moving to A New Normal: Parks and Open Spaces Initiative” released a draft of reopening recommendations, which focused on four main areas: beaches, parks, waterways and golf courses.

Per Emergency Order 21-20, Miami-Dade County is moving to a “new normal” and easing restrictions on parks, recreation and open spaces with limited activities. Parksboating and waterways, and golf courses are open to the public for limited use by individuals and families as long as they follow current CDC and Florida Department of Health guidelines.

Facial coverings shall be worn while on shore and until such time as the vessel is fully loaded and has departed the marina. Charter vessel captains, crew and patrons shall wear facial coverings and practice social distancing both on shore and on the vessel. "Six-Pack" vessels (less than 100 gross tons) shall have no more than four guests per vessel. All persons shall practice social distancing and utilize facial coverings at landside and including check-in locations.

Boats engaged in on-water activities shall remain 50 feet apart at all times. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. Jet ski rental operations shall be single riders only. Jet skis shall be sanitized on return with CDC approved products. Boat capacity shall be limited based on boat size.

As of April 29, 2020, golf courses have reopened, under limited circumstances. Staff and players shall practice social distancing and wear facial coverings while inside the facility. Indoor events are prohibited. Pro-shop display areas shall be closed, but patrons may be allowed to purchase goods and supplies at the pro-shop door on a walk-up basis. Where possible, clientele 60 years of age and older shall be separated from younger clientele. Facial coverings shall be worn by all staff at all times, and shaking hands is prohibited.

Broward County

On April 29, 2020, the City of Fort Lauderdale also reopened certain parks, marinas, boat ramps, and golf courses to help promote physical and mental health in the community.

To encourage social distancing, several amenities remain closed, including but not limited to: beaches, community centers, indoor gyms, pavilions, playgrounds, restrooms, sports fields, and swimming pools. All organized athletic leagues, recreation programs, and special events remain suspended. 

All essential services and businesses and all persons engaged in essential activities shall adhere to all social distancing guidelines and all other measures advised by the CDC including keeping six feet between persons and limiting group size to less than 10 people. 

Palm Beach County

Palm Beach announced similar re-opening updates on April 28, 2020.  Those pertain to boating, marine activities, golf courses, public parks and natural areas, tennis courts and community pools; however, owners and management will determine the actual reopening dates for public and private facilities within the County and Town.  Beaches remained closed in both Broward and Palm Beach.

Monroe County

Monroe County Emergency Management has started the process of designing the draft framework to discuss relaxing the protective measures in the Florida Keys once the threat of COVID-19 begins to ease for Florida Keys residents. The Florida Keys remain closed to visitors and Monroe County does not anticipate opening to visitors during the month of May. All those entering the Florida Keys should carry backup identification or documents providing homeownership or residency. Individuals with “legitimate business” in Monroe County may be permitted to enter the Florida Keys by providing at least one of the approved forms of documentation at the checkpoint.

Regardless of EO 20-112, Monroe County mandates the following requirements for essential businesses and customers:

  • limiting capacity to 50 percent of maximum occupancy
  • providing hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes for use by customers and employees
  • All delivery service workers and employees and customers of grocery stores, pharmacies, food distribution points, hardware stores and other essential businesses where 10 or more people may be present shall be required to wear a form of covering over their nose and mouth at all times. 


In contrast to South Florida, Florida’s panhandle is ramping up to reopen as soon as possible, although still using a phased approach.  The City of Pensacola has signaled a desire to reopen, and on April 27, 2020, issued its own Phased Reopening plan entitled “Recover Pensacola,” which is very similar to the White House plan.  Pensacola’s plan includes the following guidelines.

Phase One—Individuals

  • All vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place; members of households with vulnerable residents should be aware that returning to work or other environments without social distancing is not practical, and precautions should be taken.
  • All individuals should avoid socializing in groups of more than 10.
  • All individuals in public should maximize physical distance from each other; social settings of more than 10 people should be avoided unless precautionary measures are taken.
  • All individuals should minimize non-essential travel and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel.

Phase One—Businesses:

  • Encourage telework wherever feasible; return to work in phases if possible.
  • Close common areas where personnel congregate and interact or enforce strict social distancing protocols.
  • Minimize non-essential travel and adhere to CDC guidance regarding isolation following travel.
  • Strongly consider special accommodations for personnel who are members of a vulnerable population.

Phase One—Businesses and Activities:

  • Closed during Phase One:
    • Schools and organized youth activates (daycare, camps);
    • Large venues (sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship) can reopen based on crowd limits established by state and CDC guidance.
    • Gyms can resume based on local government instruction.
    • Bars should remain closed.
  • Other Guidance:
    • Senior living facilities and hospitals should prohibit visits. Those who interact with residents and patients must adhere to strict protocols regarding hygiene.   
    • Elective surgeries can resume, as clinically appropriate, on an outpatient basis, and at facilities that adhere to CMS guidelines. 

Critical Takeaways for Employers

Florida is reopening – the ball is rolling. The federal government has passed the baton to the states to issue necessary guidance. Governor DeSantis set out Phase One of the state’s plan, but he also indicated any locality’s more specific restrictions will supersede the statewide order. Thus, it is important for any business to be aware of federal, state, and local guidance on how to operate. 

Employers must determine whether now is the time to recall employees or end telework. And, employers must establish a plan for that return, whether in phases or all at once, how to deal with inevitable requests from employees for additional leave to handle childcare and other issues. Employers must also prepare for another possible outbreak. 

See Footnotes

​1 President Trump recently announced the prior coronavirus social distancing guidelines that expired April 30, 2020 will not be extended and fade out as they are replaced by state reopening guidance.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.