Ron DeSantis mug

Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Local restaurateur Morgan Sundberg was working on her family farm when she got word Friday that Gov. Ron DeSantis had lifted all restaurant and business COVID-19 restrictions and moved the state into Phase 3 reopening.

To say she was thrilled is an understatement.

“Ecstatic! Do I cry, do I cheer?” asked Morgan, owner of Kane's Cattle Co., The Loft Bar & Grill and Lollygaggers Sports Pub & Grill.

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Sundberg said she immediately called her restaurants to tell staff to “open it up.”

“And they all cheered in joy, one almost blowing an eardrum with her squeal,” Sundberg said. “It’s been a long, long six months and I’m so glad to come to the end of it."

This means restaurants can go immediately from 50% occupancy to 100%.

“For the consumers fearful of the governor's decision, know that this changes nothing in the amount of precaution, screening, and cleanliness that we will hold our restaurants to,” Sundberg said. “I’m sure there are plenty that think this is the wrong decision, but to me (it’s) the right decision to a pandemic this unknown.“

Josh Wooten, president/CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, said he thought DeSantis would up capacity to 75% and was a bit surprised at his decision to fast-track Phase 3 to 100%.

“It’s certainly good for businesses,” Wooten said. “Some people may question that for health reasons.”

But Wooten said as long as business owners and customers observe the health basics and observe common sense, it should be fine.

“That should have been the rule of thumb all along,” he said.

Said Wooten: “If you are sick or vulnerable, stay home. Always wash your hands. If you are not able to social distance, wear a mask and respect your fellow citizens. The chamber is eager to move forward in a safe and sensible way."

DeSantis’ move will help local businesses that have “been so drastically impacted financially” and those he talked to Friday afternoon all praised the announcement, he said.

DeSantis seeks to reopen the state's economy despite the spread of the coronavirus.

The Republican governor's order unleashed fresh debate in the politically divided state, where pandemic responses have become intertwined with the upcoming presidential election.

DeSantis, a major ally of President Donald Trump, acknowledged that the pandemic is far from over, but he said the threat has eased and the time has come to reopen for business.

“We’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said, while insisting that the state is prepared if infections increase again.

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

“As an act of executive grace, all fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals are suspended," the governor said.

Florida Democrats have bemoaned the governor’s push to reopen as hasty.

“No one is advocating for a full-scale lockdown in Florida. But we have been and continue to ask for common sense prevention measures such as face masks, which are essential to preventing further spread,” state Sen. Audrey Gibson said Thursday.

Florida has long been a COVID-19 hotspot, with nearly 700,000 people infected by the virus since the pandemic began in March. Nearly 14,000 Floridians have died.

The governor reluctantly closed bars and nightclubs on St. Patrick's Day due to the outbreak, and days later, restricted restaurants to take-out dining. Amusement parks ground to a halt.

The closures battered the economy, leaving hundreds of thousands of Floridians unemployed. Since March 15, More than 2.5 million Floridians have sought unemployment benefits.

DeSantis slowly reopened the state for business since then, allowing restaurants and bars to reopen at half capacity, while deferring to local officials who advocated reopening more slowly in the pandemic's epicenters in southern Florida.

New infections have steadily declined since Florida's caseload peaked in July.

Florida added 2,847 confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, pushing the statewide total since March 1 to 695,887. The state also announced 120 new virus deaths, pushing its total to 14,038. Hospitalizations declined by 34 to 2,137 people.

The governor’s announcement Friday allows restaurants across the state to immediately reopen at full capacity — and prevents cities and counties from ordering restaurants to close or operate at less than half-capacity, unless they can justify a closure for economic or health reasons.

“We have been able to put a lot more people back to work in the last few months,” the governor said.

The governor's announcement wasn't totally unexpected, although it had been unclear when he would move his state to the next phase of his reopening plan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com.