(CNN) — A bar near the University of Central Florida in Orlando has had its liquor license temporarily suspended after health officials linked it to over 150 coronavirus cases, though its owner claims the establishment is being used as a “scapegoat.”
The Knight’s Pub was said to be in “flagrant violation” for failing to enforce any of the required social distancing protections in the state’s reopening guidelines after 13 employees and 28 customers tested positive for coronavirus, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday during a news conference.
The case, coming amid alarming new coronavirus trends across several US states, highlights growing tensions over enforcing public health rules as states continue reopening. Florida on Wednesday marked its highest number of new and confirmed cases in a single day with 5,511, its Health Department reported.
Orange County health officials have linked 152 Covid-19 cases to the Knight’s Pub, health officer Dr. Raul Pino told CNN affiliate WFTV.
The bar’s owner, however, said he’d been careful. The establishment opened June 5, then two days later was contacted by a patron who said he or she may have come down with Covid-like symptoms after visiting, Michael D’Esposito said in a statement posted on the bar’s Facebook page.
Staffing was reduced on June 8 and the bar shut down completely the next day, he said.
Before that, managers had “limited the number of customers,” disinfected all surfaces and encouraged social distancing indoors and outdoors, the statement said. Immediately after the report on June 7 of possible symptoms, the pub cut staffing and “proactively arranged for our employees to be tested and disclosed our closure to the public.”
State guidelines limit seating at bars and entertainment businesses to 50% capacity.
D’Esposito also claimed “false accounts of irresponsible business practices and the circulation of photos from 2019 to mislead the public in the time of COVID-19 are reckless and dangerous to the greater UCF area,” according to his statement.
“As the owner of The Knight’s Pub, I am disappointed in our state and local leaders’ vilification of a small business during these trying times,” D’Esposito said.
The governor’s office, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Knight’s Pub did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
Businesses failing to comply with Florida rules for safe reopening will get a visit from “the grim reaper for business licenses” — the regulation department’s secretary, Halsey Beshears, DeSantis said Tuesday.
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