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Dr. Fauci: It's 'very concerning' Florida is easing coronavirus restrictions

The nation's top infectious disease expert says now's the time to use common sense to limit the spread of the virus.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Florida's move last week to lift state-level capacity restrictions on bars and restaurants is "very concerning."

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told ABC's "Good Morning America" now is the time to "double down a bit" even as Gov. Ron DeSantis moved the state to Phase Three of reopening.

"Well that is very concerning to me, I mean, we have always said that, myself and Dr. Deborah Birx, who is the coordinator of the task force, that that is something we really need to be careful about because when you’re dealing with community spread, and you have the kind of congregate setting where people get together, particularly without masks, you’re really asking for trouble," Fauci said. "Now’s the time actually to double down a bit, and I don’t mean close.

"When I say that, people get concerned that we’re talking about shutting down. We’re not talking about shutting anything down, we’re talking about common sense type of public health measures that we’ve been talking about all along."

The announcement of Phase Three on Sept. 25 lifts all restrictions when the state's 14-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases largely has plateaued at about 2,500-2,600 new COVID-19 cases since mid-September.

Florida ranks No. 3 in the country in terms of the total number of reported COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University and Medicine. 

The Florida Department of Health reports 14,207 Floridians and non-residents have died after being infected with the coronavirus.

DeSantis' first major effort to control the pandemic came in an announcement April 1 with a statewide stay-at-home order. Restaurants, an industry considered non-essential, were barred from having indoor seating but still allowed for carry-out service. 

Bars and nightclubs that derived more than 50 percent of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages were shuttered and remained so until Phase Two was announced in mid-May. However, they were again forced closed in late June following what was the largest single-day spike in new COVID-19 cases.

Mask wearing, hand washing and 6-feet of social distancing have been key to slow the spread of the virus, Fauci and other medical experts have said, though those weren't always maintained during the first full weekend of after DeSantis' Phase Three announcement.

The governor credited businesses for creating spaces for people to enjoy dining safely. Now it's up to the public to ensure the same COVID-19 precautions remain top-of-mind because the virus remains, USF Health and TGH Infectious Disease Epidemiologist John Sinnot said.

"So when I do eat out, I always have an outside table, over in the corner, away from people," he told 10 Tampa Bay in an earlier interview. "Myself, I would try to drink outside on the terrace, near the sun and water, somewhere totally safe. Inside, I would not even consider it."

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