Jake Harrison, a senior mechanical engineering major at the University of Florida, has been going out regularly.
Since returning to campus, Harrison said he has been to a handful of bars in the Midtown area.
“When it first started a while ago, it was all handled very well,” he said. “But since they opened it to Phase 3, it’s back to normal pretty much, but I think, personally, it’s fine.”
As bars in Gainesville and across the state entered Phase 3 late last month, Downtown Fats was among the establishments requiring students to have a mask with them in order to enter the premises. An interesting rule, maybe, but customers are not wearing the masks inside, and the business is running at 75% capacity.
Bars have been open in Florida since September. The weekend that they first reopened, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe made his displeasure known.
“This weekend was a gut punch to everyone working so hard to keep things under control here in Gainesville,” he tweeted. “With local authority stripped, we have very few enforcement tools left. This will not deter us, and we will continue to work with our partners.”
One bar, Lit at Midtown, even got temporarily shut down for its failure to follow social distancing guidelines.
It’s been a head-spinning week in Gainesville.
On Tuesday, sports fans learned that 19 Gator football team personnel tested positive for COVID-19 and a dozen more are in quarantine. The team’s Saturday home game against Louisiana State University was then postponed on Wednesday.
This all followed coach Dan Mullen’s remark earlier in the week that he wanted to seat thousands more fans at the Swamp.
“Absolutely want to see 90,000 in The Swamp,” he said.
Mullen later said he apologized “if I offended people or anybody out there.”
The university declined his request and plans to continue to follow its original social distancing plans if the season continues.
Partying in bars will continue despite the short-term uncertainty of future games.
The bars that aren’t temporarily closed are trying their best to make up for lost time and money for their business.
J.D. Chester, the owner of JJ’s Tavern, Fat’s, Downtown Fats, Knockin’ Boots Saloon and the Rowdy Reptile, said that business is running as well as can be expected, given the circumstances.
Chester said that he has been able to recover some money since reopening.
“We were at least able to recover some of the money that we desperately needed from the past seven months of not being able to pay our bills,” he said.
Although all of his bars have reopened, he explained that they are not running the same as usual, because they have less customers.
He said that he believes the customers’ turnout could have been better if he had allowed his bars to operate at full capacity.
Cypress and Grove Brewing Company is currently serving customers outside only. Patrick Burger, one of four owners and managers at the brewery, said he hopes to open up the inside taproom for customers soon. The brewery is waiting and trying to be careful, he said.
“This is certainly a difficult period for a lot of businesses in Gainesville,” he said. “We’re trying to obey the CDC’s guidelines, and keep people safe but still enjoy a beer, come out, and enjoy the day.”
Not all students support bars resuming business the way they have.
Olivia Fernandez, a second-year digital arts and science major at UF, said she has gone out about five to 10 times since she came back to campus.
“I’m kind of taking care of myself,” she said.
Megan Devaney, a second-year women’s studies and psychology major at UF, said she doesn’t necessarily feel safe when she goes out. However, she said she feels less guilty because she is not in contact with her parents.
“I’m not going home to see my parents right now, so if anything was to happen I would just stay in my apartment to keep other people safe –– not in a selfish way but there are hardly any repercussions if I get it, and I haven’t gotten it yet,” she said.
One student, Justin Rorick, a third-year advertising major at UF, said he had gone to The Social a couple of times since returning to campus. He went to the sports bar on Oct. 3, the first home game of the season.
What he saw – a packed bar – worried him.
Before COVID-19, he used to go out every weekend. Things are very different for him now.
“It’s kind of scary, because we are a college town,” he said. “A lot of times, college kids are not taking this seriously, whereas some of us are, and we’re kind of in between – so it’s not the brightest idea.”