Partygoers packed Fort Lauderdale bars this past weekend, including The Wharf, which will now shut down again until it can operate normally.
UPDATE: The Wharf announced Sunday that it will shut down again after reopening for two days. It will remain closed until it is able to operate normally again.
Original story follows:
Closed for most of 2020 because of the pandemic, The Wharf Fort Lauderdale reopened Friday night with crowds of mask-less young partygoers dancing, drinking and hanging out with no social distancing.
Pandemic? Videos and photos on social media from opening night show hundreds of young people jammed together drinking cocktails under a covered bar area. Almost all are without facemasks. A similar scene occurred Saturday night.
“It’s frightening. It’s insane,” said Dale Holness, Broward County Commissioner and former County Mayor. “I expect people to be more conscious of the effect this disease is having on our lives.”
A DJ under the Instagram name of @fielo_ and fellow attendee @mikemart5 captured the opening night on their Instagram stories: a mass crowd socializing as if it were a regular party night in South Florida.
Dr. Ralph Levy, who lives nearby, walked by The Wharf around 9 p.m. Friday and watched the scene in disbelief. “As a doctor who has gone through this since March it was disheartening,” he said. “The place was packed, everybody was close together.”
Levy, who works for Memorial Healthcare System, said he understands pandemic fatigue but calls the throng of young adults at The Wharf “foolish.” “We are seeing the hospitalization numbers starting to come up. Most of these young people will be just fine, but some will not. This is the kind of thing that will probably overwhelm the healthcare system again.”
The Wharf’s ownership announced they would open this weekend with COVID-conscious changes in place. Emi Guerra, co-founder of Breakwater Hospitality Group, which also owns The Wharf Miami, told the Sun Sentinel there had been remodeling to promote social distancing. He also said capacity would be limited and masks would be worn by guests when they were not drinking or eating.
“The venue is large and certain areas were empty, but people chose to congregate,” Guerra said Saturday. “We did ask people to put their masks on countless times. After a certain point, there is only so much we were able to do.”
Guerra said his employees even gave customers face masks if they didn’t have one. “Unfortunately, we are here to provide a service. If we are policing our guests, at a certain point, they have to take responsibility.”
After eight months closed, Guerra said he doesn’t want to get shut down. “We have 125 employees and they need to work. Our goal is to work through this and improve.” Guerra said his venue in Miami opened last weekend and ran into similar issues.
Holness said code enforcers issued The Wharf Fort Lauderdale a citation Saturday, a warning that they had not been following Broward County’s restrictions for bars and restaurants.
Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, forwarded a photo sent to him of the crowded bar to his fellow mayors in cities throughout Broward County. “we MUST enforce the current restrictions on distancing and capacity. If this is not a violation of the current Broward EO, then we have lost all capacity to prevent Broward and South Florida from becoming a hot spot and heaven help us ....,” Ryan wrote.
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Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has declared that local officials can require face masks, but can’t enforce them. However, Holness said the county can enforce that businesses follow restrictions on capacity.
The message that the virus is serious is not getting through to residents, Holness said: “Simple common-sense things will save a lot of people’s lives.”
The Wharf was hardly alone on Saturday night in its density of young bar-goers, many shunning facemasks. Twenty-somethings packed into nearby bars and restaurants such as Bodega and Rooftop, spilling onto the streets with no distance between them.
“It’s hard to drink with a mask on,” one twenty-something told a reporter. “There’s no such thing as COVID in South Florida,” said another. Neither had brought a mask with them on their night out.
Sun Sentinel reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at 954-304-5908 or firstname.lastname@example.org