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Local restaurant owners speak up about social distancing rule breakers

They urge patrons and other owners to follow guidelines to slow the spread of coronavirus.

TAMPA, Fla. — COVID-19 cases in the state continue to go up while the average age of those testing positive has gone down.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says some of that is because young people are visiting packed bars and restaurants. More than 100 complaints have already come into the state about those businesses not following social distancing guidelines.

Some Tampa Bay area restaurants and bars are worried if the complaints continue to come in, another shutdown could come with it.

“It’s very difficult. In the last 10 years probably, this is my most challenging time,” Stella's owner Barbara Banno said.

She says she is doing what it takes to keep her employees and guests safe at her Gulfport restaurant.

That’s why she gets upset when she sees photos and hears reports of other restaurants and bars in the area the governor says are not following the executive order on COVID-19 rules for businesses.

Halsey Beshears, the secretary for the Department of Business and Public Regulation, says his office has already received 106 complaints from across the state—all having to do with restaurants and bars breaking the law.

“Those that are flagrant, we’ll suspend their license,” Beshears said.

10 Investigates requested the complaints they received from the Tampa Bay Area. Many complaints allege bars are not following the social distancing guidelines.

One person wrote, "not one employee at the bar, host stand or server was wearing a mask." Another wrote, "the club had way more than capacity- several private contractors that work there have contracted COVID-19."

Since June 22, the city of Tampa has received 14 complaints.

“For other restaurants not following guidelines, it adds another whole level of stress,” Banno said.

Banno says she’s not happy to hear about the complaints coming in and just wishes fellow owners would abide by the guidelines in place to keep you safe and her doors open.

“I would urge other bars and restaurants to take this seriously. None of us can afford another shutdown," she said.

Beshears says his office has contacted local law enforcement across the state and has started to crack down on this. Officers are out at nighttime specifically and if they notice a packed bar or restaurant, they will suspend its liquor license immediately.

DeSantis' order allowing for Phase Two of reopening to commence was signed on June 3. Florida has been under Phase Two since June 5, which allows bars and restaurants to operate at 50 percent of their indoor capacity.

Seating at bar areas is allowed and outdoor seating is allowed with proper social distancing for parties of 10 or less.

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