Bars and other establishments reopen for phase two, Bay County residents have mixed opinions

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — As the state moves into phase two on Friday, local bars are reopening for the first time in months; some allowing guests in at 50% capacity at midnight on Friday.

“My employees are obviously super excited and I think the customers ought to be super excited,” said Jason Oakes, owner of Donovan’s Reef Bar. He said on Thursday that the entire closure was a very difficult experience, especially since he feels they were made to close practically overnight without a plan to reopen.

“We are able to mitigate some of our employee costs but it’s not even close to what we lost in revenue,” said Oakes.

Now, they’re hoping to make up for some of what was lost, safely.

“We still recognize that there are safety concerns that we have to adhere to both for our employees and for our customers,” he said. “We don’t take that stuff lightly.”

Oaks said they’ll be cleaning more frequently than they already do, wiping down any touched surfaces and encouraging people to take their drinks outside.

He said overall, he thinks it will be a positive change for the area and even help to solve some of the issues Panama City Beach has been seeing with crowding and “pop-up parties” in parking lots, since now visitors have an establishment to go to for drinking.

At Ms. Newby’s in Panama City Beach, they’re taking similar precautions.

Lindsey Pickenbaugh, the director of operations for Ms. Newby’s, said they’ll have masks and gloves for their employees and are cleaning all surfaces frequently, even changing out the ice every two hours.

She said they’re just happy to be back.

“All of our employees I called on Wednesday, they were like put me on the schedule, I don’t care how many days, lets go,” said Pickenbaugh.

We asked residents how they felt about bars being reopened amid the pandemic; many said that they feel it’s time, while others aren’t so sure.

“I think we should still be shut down for at least another month, maybe until the end of July for COVID,” said Kaleb Hudson, a Bay County resident. “But people can’t afford to not go back to work at this point.”

As of Thursday, the Florida Department of Health in Bay County announced one new COVID-19 related death and seven new cases. Health Department officials said the case positivity rate remains at three percent, as testing has increased in the area.

One Panama City Beach resident, Burnice Russ, said it’s a difficult situation.

“It’s harmful either way,” said Russ. “It’s harmful to not be open, it’s going to be harmful to open and so you know you’ve got to take a pick. Which one do you wan to take? If you want to risk the lives of people, then so be it.”

Oakes said it’s a relief.

“I think this is a perfect case of hoping for the best and hoping we can move past this together,” he said. 

Ms. Newby’s on Thomas Drive will be having a “welcome back” celebration on Friday night starting at 8 p.m.; Pickenbaugh said 20% of the profits from the event will be donated to Beach Care Services.

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